Eyes on Earth Episode 61 - Landsat 9 Launch Part 2

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Detailed Description

Hundreds of scientists, officials, international representatives, and others witnessed the launch of Landsat 9 on September 27, 2021, from a handful of viewing sites around Santa Barbara County, California. Their interests were as varied as their backgrounds, but the new satellite’s extension of the Landsat program’s invaluable 50-year record of Earth observations was top of mind for the international partners who help the USGS collect Landsat data and the scientists who rely on those data to monitor the health of the planet. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we talk with guests from around the world about their role in the Landsat program, and the importance of the program to their work.

Details

Episode Number: 61

Date Taken:

Length: 00:14:12

Location Taken: Santa Barbara, CA, US

Credits

 

Guests:

Andres Espejo, World Bank;
Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchasegui, World Wildlife Fund;
Ann Bray, Australian Embassy;
Marc Jocemich, German Aerospace Center;

Host: John Hult (Contractor USGS EROS Center)

Transcript

JOHN HULT:
Hello everyone, and welcome to another special episode of Eyes on Earth. We're a podcast that focuses on our ever-changing planet and on the people here at EROS and across the globe who used remote sensing to monitor and study the health of Earth. I'm your host for today, John Hult. Today, we're returning to Santa Barbara county, California to hear more from the attendees of the Landsat 9 launch. An Atlas V rocket sent the satellite into space on September 27th, 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base. International partners and Landsat users were among those to witness the event. We caught up with Andras Espejo and Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchastegui at a Vandenberg watch site about 15 minutes before liftoff. Andres is a Senior Carbon Finance Specialist at the World Bank, where he manages funds meant to encourage developing nations to reduce carbon emissions by paying them for reductions in deforestation. Naikoa works for the World Wildlife Fund and collaborates with Andres to help countries set baselines and targets for the program. Landsat imagery is a key data source for what you'll hear them refer to as "MRV," or measuring reporting and verification of carbon reductions. Naikoa is the WWF Senior Director of Forest Carbon Science and MRV Lead. The background noise you'll hear includes conversations taking place nearby, and the sound of NASA TV's launched coverage, which was streaming on several monitors at the watch site. The first voice you'll hear belongs to Andres.
ANDRES ESPEJO:
I work for the climate change group, more specifically for the climate funds management unit. We're managing around $1.5 billion in finance to countries. We provide some financing in order to set the necessary systems to report to our funds on the emission reductions that they get for avoided deforestation and forest degradation and enhancement of carbon stocks. And then we have another pot of money where we pay for those emission reductions. This program has been there for more than 10 years, and as you can imagine, the payments are conditional to emission reductions, and those emission reductions, they have to be estimated. They have to be measured. So MRV systems, measurement, reporting, verification systems. We provide some countries to set thier MRV systems in order to enable them to report us the results. I work with partners like Naikoa and WWF to create the capacities in the countries to implement these MRV systems. 
HULT:
How key is Landsat to those MRV systems? 
ESPEJO:
I mean, it's really the cornerstone. You can establish forest inventories, you can conduct terrestrial inventories, but in many of these countries, you didn't have anything in the past, right? So you cannot establish a baseline. The only way to do that is with historical imaginary, and the only systematic observation of the Earth that we have all the way from the 1990s, 2000s is basically Landsat.
HULT:
Critical.
ESPEJO:
Exactly. Without Landsat, we wouldn't be able to pay anything.
HULT:
Talk a little bit about your piece here.
NAIKOA AGUILAR-AMUCHASTEGUI:
WWF is present in over 100 countries. So we have presence in most of the tropical countries, and we have long-term relationships with the governments in these countries. My role is to try to help build the technical capacities of our teams in those countries, and as well as the institutional partners, government agencies that will also work with the World Bank and other entities, and trying to figure out what the best approach that's feasible and practical (may be). And then regarding Landsat, it's a cornerstone, as Andreas explained, because it's the only sensor that has been consistently collecting the data in a comparable way that allows for an actual understanding of what is historical pattern, what is natural dynamics versus man-made dynamics, and then what is it that we are going to do about it? 
HULT:
That's so interesting. So you're essentially helping to build that baseline, country by country?
AGUILAR-AMUCHASTEGUI:
Well, yes. We try to discuss how those baselines are established. So the data from Landsat, and how it's processed and how we enhance the accuracy of the estimates and so forth is part of the discussion, but our presence in the country also allows for us to engage in the political aspects. So a benchmark is actually a data informed political statement, which means okay, as a country I claim that this is my benchmark, and then I therefore expect to be assessed by performance in one way or another. 
HULT:
What does the addition of Landsat 9 mean?
AGUILAR-AMUCHASTEGUI:
Well Landsat 9 is super important. The wealth of data available is going to duplicate itself. We have the same sensor as we had for Landsat 8, it will replace de facto Landsat 7, and it's free. 
ESPEJO:
The temporal resolution is something that ... Most of the countries where we provide finance is in the tropics. Basically in the tropics, we have many clouds. And usually deforestation is very focused in a certain period of the year, like three months. And if you only consider Landsat 8 or Landsat 7, you have very few images with clarity, which means that in certain years, you are not able to report.
With Landsat 9, countries will be able to report on a more frequent basis to our funds, but I think that there's also a very important part, that is that is they'll be able to manage, right? They will have timely information to understand, like if there's a problem, if deforestation is increasing. What are the drivers? And then take action.
AGUILAR-AMUCHASTEGUI:
Yeah, for example, the reaction times are important. These matter for early warning systems. Whenever an image is acquired, it can be processed immediately, and then significant changes can be flagged.
ESPEJO: 
I guess that also the important thing is the sign that it's sending, basically that this mission will continue still for the long-term, and that there is engagement to make this data available and so on. And that's also here quite crucial because, you know, we cannot rely on something that in five years or 10 years' time will disappear. This is for the long term. That also provides confidence to countries establishing their systems in a sustainable manner. 
AGUILAR-AMUCHASTEGUI:
To me, the most exciting thing is the fact that we are lengthening the record, the size of the record, the temporal dimension of the record. We're moving into the second half of a century of data. You can always turn it back and then go back to analyzing that. 
ESPEJO: 
Something I was not aware of ... I thought that the sensor in Landsat 9 was going to be like an enhanced, new generation. And I learned that it's exactly the same as Landsat 8, the OLI sensor, which is cool. I'm glad, because it (could) bring more noise into the system and create some complexities. And it will basically strengthen the capabilities of Landsat 8, so I was very glad to hear that. I learned every time I come to these events, and I interact with the scientists. Unfortunately, I don't have that many opportunities, but it's always a great way to learn new things. And I have made many contacts and ideas on how to convey everything that I have seen, the new things are coming from the science world, to the developing world.
HULT:
We finished up that conversation moments before hearing this. 
NASA TV:
Status check: Go Atlas, go Centaur, go Landsat 9. And there it is, the word, for the launch of Landsat 9.
HULT:
That chant told us that the launch was eminent. Here's what that sounded like.
NASA TV:
T Minus 10, 9, 8, 7,6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. And ignition! And liftoff! Liftoff of an Atlas V rocket and Landsat 9, continuing the legacy of and irreplaceable 50-year record on our ever-changing planet. 
HULT:
Shortly after the launch, we spent a few minutes with Ann Bray, the Australian Embassy's minister-counselor for industry science, energy and resources. Alice Springs, Australia is home to one of the international ground stations that receives raw Landsat data for processing. Just before the launch, Ann was handed a mateship medallion to commemorate her home country's long-term partnership with the Landsat program. 
ANN BRAY:
We've been collaborating for about 40 years now, including using our Alice Springs ground station to receive data. So that's been, yeah, it's been a fantastic collaboration. And we of course need the data desperately in Australia. It helps our farming communities, it helps monitor land use, and many, many other uses, of course.
HULT:
Climate change has done a number on several places around the world. We saw that to great effect a couple years ago in Australia. Tell us a a little bit about some of the questions that we're hoping to answer using Landsat data.
BRAY:
Landsat can help us monitor the temperature and the amount of water that's in varying locations. So it's really critical for us to monitor climate change and how that's progressing, or we can try and stop it, that would be great.
HULT:
What does this moment mean for the Landsat partnership with Australia.
BRAY:
Well, we'll use this data everywhere in Australia. Private companies use it, communities use it, government uses it to monitor a range of things. So with that Landsat 9, we wouldn't have that, of course. It's a really important, critical relationship for us. And it's critical to be able to get hold of that data and have that freely available.
HULT
We caught up with Marc Jocemich in Buellton, California, about an hour after liftoff. Mark heads up the Washington office of the German Aerospace Center, which you'll hear him refer to as the DLR. Germany hosts an international ground station in Neustrelitz, about 60 miles north of Berlin. Here's what Mark had to say about the value of Landsat 9 and international partnership.
MARC JOCEMICH:
Well, Landsat 9 continues the 50 years heritage of data. It's always important when you look at Earth observation data, to have a timeline, to see changes and developments, and that there are actually no gaps between the different satellites that gather the data. And so this is really a wealth of information coming from this mission and it contributes to the large amount of data that's used by the scientific community. It gives a great basis, and also, of course, together for example, from a European perspective, together with European missions, systems like Copernicus and national missions coming from Germany .... Bringing all this data together really enables scientists, and also of course, companies to monitor changes on the Earth. And of course, for companies to develop services, and really applications that can be used commercially. That's really, really important.
HULT:
Tell us about the interplay of Landsat and these other observations, these other observatories that you're talking about here. As I understand it, cross calibration and working together is a very important part of a world where more and more satellites are going up.
JOCEMICH:
Exactly. Yeah. About collaboration with USGS in terms of Landsat, is that we, the DLR, is providing a receiving station in Neustrelitz, close to Berlin. We have downlink stations for Landsats 7, 8, and 9. And we do a lot of data exchange also, so outside we just really worked together in how to interpret this data, but also in new developments, like using cloud approaches to have the data available for all the users and at the same time, and not that we have to distribute large data sets to them and download them, but really they can really pick those data out of the cloud that they would need for the application, for their science. And then there are novel approaches, like artificial intelligence, because the data amount is growing rapidly. With all the missions contributing and bringing this together, you need some tools that don't involve actual people looking at all the data.
HULT:
Can you give us maybe your best sales pitch as a ground station, as international cooperator. What is the value of this gleaned, and obviously a much more important role for Neustrelitz. 
JOCEMICH:
Receiving the data, of course, we do the operations with the ground stations, but we also are a scientific organization. So if you do such a cooperation with USGS, you always make also use of the data and use it for our research. So that it's very important for us to have this access to this data, through contributing with our infrastructure. This is really an added value for our research.
HULT:
Sure. And just briefly, what are some of the applications in Germany that are particularly important and thinking very recently, we saw horrendous floods, flooding. What are the applications that make Landsat valuable for studying climate change?
JOCEMICH:
All the changes that are going on our environment and all the impacts of climate change, those are really the hot topic we are trying to tackle in Germany. Not only in Germany in Europe. We also have this green new deal approach on the European level. We trying to build up a system that's representing the whole Earth system, and so we need continuous flow of repetitive data from systems like Landsat.
HULT:
How did it feel to be at the launch today? Is this your first satellite launch or?
JOCEMICH:
It was not my first launch, but my first launch here in Vandenberg. So, I heard that the weather can be challenging for the viewers, but we were lucky to see at least the liftoff phase. And of course, the sound is always impressive and when it comes a few seconds after the launch. So that was fantastic to be here and see that this heritage will be taken onward. We are really happy that we see this continuity and this data stream will be available for all the scientists worldwide.
HULT:
Thanks for listening to this episode of Eyes on Earth. Be sure to join us next time to learn more about satellites, remote sensing, land change, and much more. You can find all our shows on our website, usds.gov/eros. That's U-S-G-S, forward slash E-R-O-S. You can also subscribe on apple podcasts or Google podcasts. This podcast is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Interior.