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Significant results from using earth observation satellites for mineral and energy resource exploration

January 1, 1981

A large number of Earth-observation satellites orbit our world several times each day, providing new information about the land and sea surfaces and the overlying thin layer of atmosphere that makes our planet unique. Meteorological satellites have had the longest history of experimental use and most are now considered operational. The geologic information collected by the Landsat, Polar Orbiting Geophysical Observatory (POGO), Magsat, Heat Capacity Mapping Mission (HCMM) and Seasat land and ocean observation systems is being thoroughly tested, and some of these systems are now approaching operational use.

Landsat multispectral images provide views of large areas of the Earth under uniform lighting conditions and can be obtained at a variety of scales and formats. Not only do the Landsat data provide highly useful images showing surficial materials and structures such as folds and faults, but also measurements and computer-derived ratios of the brightness of different rock types, alteration zones, and mineral associations. These data have led to the finding of a variety of new ore deposits. In addition, the combination of Landsat digital data and aeromagnetic data has extended the use of Landsat as an exploration tool which can be used to readily relate surface features to subsurface anomalies.

Magsat data, now being collected, are helping refine information on major crustal anomalies that were first recognized during the analysis of POGO data. The more nearly circular orbit, lower altitude, and increased sophistication of its vector magnetometer enable Magsat to provide more precise information than POGO. Information of this type is required to develop crustal models. Although Magsat is designed to operate for only 4–8 months, the number of orbits that it should be able to make will be sufficient to accomplish its mission and to record a major magnetic storm expected in 1980.

HCMM is a two-band visible to near-IR (0.55–1.1 μm) and thermal infrared (10.2–12.5 μm) system designed to measure reflected solar energy, determine the heat capacity of rocks and to monitor soil moisture, thermal effluents, plant canopy temperatures and snow cover. Launched in April 1978, it is in sun-synchronous, circular orbit at an altitude of 620 km. It is a relatively low-resolution system with an instantaneous field of view (IFOV) of 500–600 m and a swath width of 716 km. However, the system is designed to detect objects in the range of 260°–340° K with a sensitivity (NEδT) of 0.4°K at 280°. Recording the thermal radiation of urban heat islands and high thermal inertia of quartzite strata in the Appalachian region are two examples of its land applications.

Launched in June 1978, Seasat operated for only 100 days, but successfully acquired much information over both sea and land. The collection of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery and radar altimetry was particularly important to geologists. Although there are difficulties in processing and distributing these data in a timely manner, initial evaluations indicate that the radar imagery supplements Landsat data by increasing the spectral range and offering a different look angle. The radar altimeter provides accurate profiles over narrow strips of land (1 km wide) and has demonstrated usefulness in measuring icecap surfaces (Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica). The Salar of Uyuni in southern Bolivia served as a calibration site for the altimeter and has enabled investigators to develop a land-based smoothing algorithm that is believed to increase the accuracy of the system to 10 cm. Data from the altimeter are currently being used to measure subsidence resulting from ground water withdrawal in the Phoenix-Tucson area.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1981
Title Significant results from using earth observation satellites for mineral and energy resource exploration
DOI 10.1016/0273-1177(81)90402-6
Authors William D. Carter
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Advances in Space Research
Series Number
Index ID 70010322
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center