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Eyes on Earth Episode 18 — Landsat's International Partners

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Detailed Description

Across the planet, in rural settings on uncluttered landscapes, there are satellite antennas receiving data directly from Landsat satellites as they pass 438 miles overhead at more than 17,000 miles per hour. It happens multiple times a day, in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Korea, and elsewhere. The International Cooperators network has 20 ground stations in 14 countries. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from three of our international partners on the value satellite data brings to their countries.





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Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Eyes on Earth. Weíre a podcast that focuses on our ever-changing planet. We talk about it with scientists and engineers here at the EROS Center outside of Sioux Falls, SD. And we talk to people from across the world, as well, about this business of using remote sensing to monitor and study the well-being of Earth. Iím your host, Steve Young.

Today we want to spend some time visiting about a group called the Landsat International Cooperators Network. So, picture this. Across the planet, in rural settings on uncluttered landscapes, there are satellite antennas receiving data directly from a Landsat satellite as it passes 438 miles overhead at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

That happens multiple times a day, in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Korea ... you get the picture. The International Cooperators network has 20 Landsat ground stations in 14 countries spread far and wide across the globe.

Why so many, you might wonder? A couple of reasons. For one, all those antennas receiving Landsat data provide a global safety net if problems ever arise getting data back to EROS, where all that information is processed, archived, and distributed. So for example, if on-board spacecraft data storage was ever reduced or lost altogether, the IC stations would be able to provide a copy of the data back to EROS. In that way, the ICs not only further enhance the ground station at EROS, but we have other ground stations in Norway, Alaska, Germany and Australia, all of which serve as the primary facilities for capturing data and tracking the health of the satellite.

Now in the grander scheme of things, Landsat missions have long been viewed as an important component of U.S. foreign policy. While certainly key to the countryís science and technology policies as well, Landsat and the network of International Cooperators embody the concept of a peaceful use of outer space, and with it the worldwide dissemination of civil space technology for the good of all humankind.

We had a chance to sit down and visit with some of these International Cooperators earlier this summer at EROS, where they had gathered for a Landsat Technical Working Group meeting. We know these folks bring a lot of technical support and assistance to maintaining a gold standard with Landsat of highly calibrated and reliable Earth surface imagery. We also know that they go back to their countries and share their expertise and guidance with local users who are developing locally focused remote sensing applications.

We asked Vincent Rooke, who manages the Alice Springs Ground Station for Geoscience Australia, what it means for his homeland to be an International Cooperator.


The value it brings to Australia specifically, being a vast and massive continent, it allows us to perform analysis of land changes, natural disaster events when they occur. Assists us in managing those. Assists us in rural fire watching, and we have the Sentinel Hotspot Bush Fire System. And it also assists us to basically ... the changing environment of Australia on a continental scale, which we have different seasonal climates in Australia from north to south Australia, so therefore, the use of satellite imagery is just critical to make that assessment in government, industry and business. So, thereís a lot of value of Landsat and satellite imagery in general to Australia.î


So where would Australia be with its remote sensing capabilities without Landsat?


I think Australia in some ways, so, because we donít have our own remote-sensing satellite, and the reliance on other countries, particularly the U.S. and USGS for Landsat missions, has been very, very useful. And our participation at the Landsat forums and other forums, Australia sees that as very valuable, and our knowledge of remote sensing and the use of imagery has been, I think, very extensive, and we have a lot of knowledge to pass on to others in the global forum. And I think our ability to interpret satellite imagery and influence future missions is where Australia, I think, has benefitted the most from these forums, and engaging in the Landsat forums in general.î


The Republic of Korea has been an International Cooperator for four years, senior researcher Chung Hum Yu with the National Disaster Management Research Institute in that country told us. Because Korea has a direct downlink from Landsat, those images can help it respond to emergencies much quicker.


In my country, we had some serious bush fire in Korea, so we lost a lot of the forest and the biomass at the time. But the important thing is, after that disaster happened, we need to know which areas are affected by the bush fire, or how much is affected area. What it will really cover for the previous condition. So, using a satellite image, you can accumulate more than 10 years. So we can analyze how itís changed after the disaster happened. So, kind of, we work like that. So, International Cooperators give a different method to measure and analyze that kind of events.  So, we kind of increase the more capability for us.î


Rooke said Australia realizes those same emergency response benefits from Landsat.


Bush fires are quite devastating in populated areas. And checking and basically validating what the rural fire services are seeing on the ground, assisting in those remote areas which are inaccessible, is just so important. During natural disaster events, flooding in major parts of Australia, like we had the recent floods in 2019, and huge sections of Australia, northern Australia, were devastated with floods, causing tens of thousands of livestock deaths. And basically, weíre able to monitor that using satellite imagery, provide that information to other government agencies and the general public.


Disaster response is just one area of Landsat applications in South Africa, according to Dr. Paida (Pie-duh) Mangara, who recently transitioned as the Research Development and Applications Division for South African National Space Agencyís (SANSA) Earth Observation Directorate and now is the head of the School for Geography, Archeology and Environmental Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.  


Landsat data has been used extensively for water resource monitoring, for water quality assessments. So, it has been very good in those areas. And for vegetation monitoring as well. So, it has been used extensively for vegetation monitoring because itís very important for ... it gives you a long-term time analysis for that, so if you are looking at long-term studies of vegetation, then Landsat is most ideal sensor to use because it gives you a record from 1972.


South Africa has developed an Advanced Crop Monitoring System that it wants to make available to other African countries. Mangara said Landsat is making that possible.


It would be difficult to do without Landsat because a lot of algorithms which have been developed, are a lot more dependent on the spectral characterization of Landsat, and to the temporal resolution of Landsat. If you look at the spectral resolution of Landsat, it has got the most suitable bands for crop monitoring. You looking at the red band, the infrared band ... so those are quite important spectral bands for crop monitoring. It has got near infrared bands, and it has got very unique thermal bands. There havenít been as many satellites which are carrying the thermal infrared sensors as what you have on the Landsat. So, Landsat has got also the longest time series of data, so for long-term applications, it is one of the most suitable sensors to use.


Beyond improved natural resource and disaster monitoring, there is valuable technical and development interplay that goes on among International cooperators as well, Mangara told us.


For us, itís a huge collaborative opportunity in terms of looking at new areas of applications for Landsat data, as well as to develop new software. Weíve just been able to develop new ground processing software for Landsat 8 with the assistance of USGS. So, thatís a huge milestone for us, as a new space agency. As well as the opportunity to be able to identify new areas of collaboration, where the issues are forming on Analysis Ready Data, where weíre looking at new data structures, so USGS has been leading that initiative, and weíve been learning a lot from them.


The hope is that learning and that collaboration will continue and provide even more possibilities and benefits as the launch of Landsat 9 approaches in early 2021. Thatís the expectation in Korea, Yu said.


Landsat 9 is more developed, the sensor they have. So, I think itís more accurate and more repeat monitoring in the Korean area, so itís really helpful to us.


Youíve been listening to Eyes on Earth and our conversation about the vast global network of International Cooperators who not only help with the collection of Landsat data, but benefit from its acquisition as well. 

We hope you come back for the next episode of Eyes on Earth. This podcast is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. Thanks for joining us.


Show Transcript