Measuring the Changing Earth with Landsat

Using 3D models, see what Landsat sees. The Landsat series has provided us with valuable data about our world.

By NASA

Landsat — Ice in Antarctica (2022-04-26) by NASA/USGSNASA

Landsat observations of our changing environment provide important information for decisions about human health, agriculture, natural disasters, urban growth and more.

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Earth with cloudsNASA

Check out this 3D model of the Earth! Our environment is constantly undergoing both natural and human-caused changes.

Landsat Changing Atlanta (2021) by NASA/USGS LandsatNASA

The Landsat series is a joint NASA and U.S. Geological Survey satellite program designed and operated to observe these changes from space. Specifically, these satellites are intended to study land use and how it changes over time.

Malaspina Glacier, Alaska (2017-12-08)NASA

Landsat satellites have helped us track water use, monitor deforestation and measure glacier speed.

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EarthNASA

Here's another 3D model of the Earth, this one without clouds! 

This valuable data, available for free from the U.S. Geological Survey, helps us make informed decisions about Earth’s resources and our environment.

Guinea-Bissau (2017-12-08)NASA

50 Years of Science

There have been nine Landsat satellites launched since 1972.

Landsat 9 Top View (2019) by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image LabNASA

Landsat 9, which launched in September of 2021, is the latest satellite to reach orbit. Landsat 7 and 8 are still active. 

Landsat 8 Illustration (2011) by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image LabNASA

Since it’s important to prevent a gap in Landsat data so weekly coverage of the Earth can continue, Landsat 9 was designed very similarly to Landsat 8. This made it possible to build and launch quickly.

Landsat 9 Top View (2019) by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image LabNASA

Landsat 9 hosts two instruments, similar to those aboard Landsat 8:

Seaweed Farms in South Korea [detail] (2017-12-08)NASA

Operational Land Imager-2

The first instrument captures observations of the planet in different kinds of wavelengths. It “sees” visible light — recording the colors blue, green and red.

Acting Administrator Lightfoot Visits Ball Aerospace (2017-04-06) by NASA/Joel KowskyNASA

Operational Land Imager-2

It can also record wavelengths that we can’t see — near infrared and shortwave-infrared.

Massive Iceberg Breaks Off from Antarctica (2017-12-08)NASA

Thermal Infrared Sensor-2

Earth’s surface emits heat. This instrument measures that heat — called thermal infrared radiation. This data can help us calculate soil moisture.

Assembly of Landsat's TIRS Instrument (2017-12-08)NASA

Thermal Infrared Sensor-2

It can also track the rate of evapotranspiration — the movement of water from the soil, through plants and into the atmosphere. Data about evapotranspiration can tell us a lot about the health of plants.

Landsat 9 OLI-2 & TIRS-2 Images (2021) by NASA/USGSNASA

This image is a good example of how Landsat’s instruments work. The bottom images show the landscapes depicted in the top but with thermal data. Blue-white colors indicate cooler surface temperatures while the orange-red indicate warmer surface temperatures.

Himalayas - Landsat 9 (2021-10-31) by NASA/USGSNASA

By providing us with the data we need to make informed decisions about our environment, Landsat helps shape the future of our planet.

More Resources

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Credits: Story

Author: Julie Freijat
Editors: Bill Steigerwald, Kate Ramsayer, Katy Mersmann, Sofie Bates


NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Goddard Office of Communications

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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