Landsat Imagery added to Memory of World Register

A Landsat image of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image Source: Satellite Imaging Corp.

A Landsat image of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image Source: Satellite Imaging Corp.

A United Nations group has added the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat archive of Earth images to the Memory of World International Register. The register was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientifc, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1992 to document heritage from around the world. This project is intended to reflect the progression of mankind through time.

Anne Castle, the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior states, “During a span of almost 40 years, the Landsat series of Earth observation satellites has become a unique reference worldwide for advancing our scientific knowledge and our understanding of terrestrial systems.”

Castle says that adding the Landsat data archive into the Memory of the World Register shows the usefulness and cultural value of 40 years’ worth of information. She believes the addition also will aid in scientific research.

The Landsat project collects land remote sensing data through space satellites. It is the longest continuously acquired collection of this type of data. Sponsored by USGS and NASA, it aids civilians and government in areas such as agriculture, geology, forestry, water resource, regional planning, mapping, emergency response, and global change research. Adam Gerrand, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on the Landsat homepage states “The opening of the Landsat archive to free, web-based access is like giving a library card for the world’s best library of Earth conditions to everyone in the world.”

The archive that has been added to the Memory of World is composed of images taken from 1972 to 1992, depicting more than 600,000 100-by-100 mile scenes.

The archive is not just images, however, but detailed data layers taken from both the visible and invisible light spectrum. For example, these satellites can illustrate detailed conditions of thousands of acres of land depicting forests, grasslands, and oceans. Data gathered by Landsat satellites were essential in examining the damage of the 2004 tsunami disaster in southeastern Asia. Disaster management teams were able to assess the before and after imagery to understand the full extent of the effects in order to provide disaster relief.

Landsat images been used for both basic research as well as applied research with a wide variety of breakthroughs. There have been seven satellites so far, with the USGS possessing 3 million images. “The universal availability of the Landsat data at no charge is a key to its unique capabilities and global scope,” Castle says.

“Scientists, land managers, and students everywhere can work with long term, accurate, unbiased, and freely accessible data to confront the most difficult challenges involving land use, natural resources, and the environment.”