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March 4, 2021

The value of Landsat satellite imagery to the U.S. and global economies has increased notably in recent years. Landsat imagery provided an estimated $3.45 billion in economic benefits to users worldwide in 2017, compared to worldwide benefits of $2.19 billion in 2011. 

Integrating people, economies, and social systems into environmental decisions is inherently interdisciplinary and requires working across economic, social, and natural sciences.  The Social and Economic Analysis Branch, part of the Fort Collins Science Center, is a leader in providing unique capability in USGS by guiding projects on the cutting edge of conducting interdisciplinary science in this complex context. One example includes a long-term project led by Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) social scientists to research the value of Landsat.     

In collaboration with the USGS National Land Imaging Program and Colorado State University, FORT social scientists administered surveys to Landsat users in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2018. The surveys included questions on user characteristics, current uses of imagery, preferred attributes of Landsat imagery, and the value and societal benefits of Landsat imagery. Samples of Landsat imagery are shown above and at the end of the news story. Using standard scientific methods, social scientists are better able to understand the variety of Earth observation users, including how they use and value Earth observation data.  In 2018, social scientists led an effort to understand and update Landsat’s economic value to the United States.  

Survey results showed the value of Landsat satellite imagery to the U.S. and global economies has increased notably in recent years. Much of that value, and growing use, stems from allowing users access to Landsat images at no cost, according to the “Economic Valuation of Landsat” report published in 2019. 

Landsat imagery provided an estimated $3.45 billion in economic benefits to users worldwide in 2017, with U.S. users reaping $2.06 billion of those benefits, the study found. That compares to worldwide benefits of $2.19 billion in 2011. When downloads by cloud vendors were included, the global economic benefit in 2017 reached $4.18 billion.

Infographic on Landsat provided $3.45 billion in benefits to global economies in 2017 compared to $2.19 billion in 2011.
Landsat imagery provided an estimated $3.45 billion in economic benefits to users worldwide in 2017, with U.S. users reaping $2.06 billion of those benefits. That compares to worldwide benefits of $2.19 billion in 2011. To view the full infographic, visit Landsat Valuation infographic.(Public domain.)

In 2017, users downloaded more than 22 million Landsat scenes directly from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., compared to nearly 3 million scenes in 2011. 

The values were calculated using a contingent valuation method, or users’ willingness to pay, and only included images downloaded directly from EROS in 2017. This estimate does not include cascading benefits from further distribution and reuse of the imagery after it was obtained from the USGS or from the use of value-added products derived from Landsat images.  

Scientists and decision makers use Landsat in many ways including efforts to contain wildfires, increase worldwide crop production, identify famine risks, conserve water, control forest-killing diseases, and reduce climate change impacts. Commercial vendors use Landsat as a reference to improve their own imagery and to develop new products. Some of those products are so popular with the public and businesses that they are now household names. The full benefits of such uses to the global economy were not included in the study.  

The USGS began providing Landsat images at no cost to users in 2008. This study found that charging even small fees would result in a significant loss of users. Landsat is a joint USGS / NASA Program that provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land surface. 

Since 1972, Landsat satellites have provided a growing variety of users the power to observe the Earth’s land surfaces from space and to monitor changes in the land and its resources. Landsat images are unique in that they provide complete global coverage that spans almost 50-years of continuous Earth observation, and they are available to anyone at no cost. No other satellite provides that combination of attributes. Every day, Landsat satellites provide essential information to help land managers and policy makers make decisions about resources and the environment.   

As a complementary effort to the quantitative surveys conducted, FORT social scientists have been conducting an ongoing series of Landsat user case studies. These case studies use qualitative social science methods, exploring each particular use of the imagery and its benefits and challenges as perceived by the users. The case studies provide in-depth information related to users, uses, value, and societal benefits. The case studies enrich understanding by providing context for the economic-benefit modeling and demonstrating the value of Landsat imagery. Visit "Landsat User Case Studies - Dive into Details" for more information about the Landsat user case studies. 

Landsat 8 imagery of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, in 2018. Before image was taken on October 7, 2018 and the after image was taken on November 8, 2018. Scientists and decision makers use Landsat in many ways, including efforts to contain wildfires.


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