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Since 1972, Landsat satellites have continually acquired data about the Earth’s land surface. On November 23, 2021, the Landsat Archive that stores this vital record added its ten millionth scene.
The history of the area on display in that milestone scene offers insight into the value of the Landsat Program’s longevity to the scientific community.
In a twenty-second video clip that strings together scenes from nearly five decades, the Dead Sea slowly shrinks, creating an orbital view more akin to a pair of saline lakes than a single body of salt water. Landsat 7 captured the final image, which is the celebrated 10 millionth scene.
Over time, irrigation and other water-intensive projects using the Jordan River ultimately reduce the amount of water reaching the Dead Sea. What once was 1.3 billion cubic meters of fresh water flowing into the salty body of water is now 100 million cubic meters, about a 93% reduction. Over the past 50 years, Landsat satellites have documented a water level drop of 45 meters.
With reduced water intake, the sea grows saltier every year. The Dead sea has no outlet, so when evaporation occurs, minerals and salts once suspended in the liquid remain. Overall, the hypersaline lake yields 34 percent salinity, which is ten times saltier than the average ocean.
As the water has declined, the potash industry found on the southside of the lake has flourished. Dead Sea salts are found in a wide range of products including cosmetics, bath salts, and road de-icer. Current studies estimate continued decline would jeopardize potash, resulting in operations too expensive to remain sustainable or profitable.
Launched in 1999, Landsat 7 has contributed over 3 million images to the Landsat archive over the past 22 years. In 2003, the Scan Line Corrector (SLC) failed, resulting in wedge shaped data gaps. Despite the SLC failure, Landsat 7 still provides some of the most accurate of all civilian satellite data in the world.
USGS will continue to add Landsat acquisitions from current missions into the archive and will begin adding Landsat 9 scenes in early 2022. Landsat’s unique long-term record provides critical understanding of environmental and climate changes that are occurring in the U.S. and around the world.