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Highlight February 2013


Launch of the latest Landsat satellite

IES Head of Unit Alan Belward attended the successful launch of NASA’s Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) on Monday, 11 February 2013, from the Vanderberg Air Force Base in California. The satellite is functioning normally and the imaging sensors will be switched on towards the 22 February. Once calibration and testing are completed image distribution will begin. LDCM is on course to reach a sun-synchronous polar orbit of 705 kilometres above Earth by April.

Interest in the mission runs high. The launch was attended by many more engineers and scientists than expected, with over 1 000 attending the event. Alan presented JRC research on the use of Landsat data for measuring land cover change in Africa at the public information event organised to coincide with the launch. The presentation highlighted in particular pressures on land resources, using NASA’s hyperwall (a 9-screen system used for displaying high resolution satellite imagery) to show the dramatic changes in Africa’s land resources over the past forty years driven by processes including agricultural expansion, demands for fuelwood and deforestation.

 Landsat imagery of the Kigasi Game Reserve in Tanzania – a striking example of the encroaching
agriculture of the area bordering the park from the 1970s to date.

The JRC is a member of the Landsat Science Team, which has begun plans for integrating data from the new satellite into a variety of applications including agriculture insurance, crop mapping and yield forecasts, food security, biodiversity and climate change. The Science Team is also actively discussing alignment of the new Landsat and the European Copernicus programme’s Sentinel-2 satellite. On 12 February, Alan gave a presentation of IES research on Africa’s changing land cover to the Science Team (see below).

Over the past year, the IES has been working with almost all sub-Saharan African countries to create an accurate accounting of the amount and rate of African land conversion from natural vegetation to agriculture. Their analysis determined that about 50 000 square kilometers are being converted annually from the 1970s to the year 2000. Given that the population of Africa had more or less doubled over that period, this means that there's less agriculture acreage per person now than there was in the 1970s, so the pressure on the land is relentless. Latest results produced by the IES show that the rate of change is accelerating, putting even greater pressure on the remaining natural resources. Hence, the Landsat program is more vital than ever to keep track of the changing landscape.

The Landsat program

The Landsat program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Since 1972, the Landsat program has tracked changes in land cover and land use around the globe.  It is the longest running enterprise for acquisition of satellite imagery of Earth. The instruments on the Landsat satellites have acquired millions of images. They are a unique resource for global change research and applications in fields such as agriculture, cartography, geology, forestry, regional planning, surveillance and education. Landsat 5, the longest-operating Earth-observing satellite, was decommissioned in January 2013 after almost 29 years of operations - nearly 10 times its expected lifespan.  Landsat 7 has been in orbit for nearly 14 years, but its fuel is running low and its eyesight is partially impaired. So the successful launch of LDCM is welcome news to the scientific community as it examines long-term changes on the planet. Mission managers intend to rename it Landsat 8 after it is fully checked out and handed over to USGS later in 2013. Data will be archived and distributed free over the Internet from the Earth Resources and Science (EROS) center within 100 days of launch.

The new satellite has two main sensors: the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS). OLI will collect images using nine spectral bands—in different wavelengths of visible, near-infrared, and shortwave light—to observe a 185-kilometre section of the Earth in 30-metre resolution. It will take measurements in two new bands: one to observe high-altitude cirrus clouds and another to observe atmospheric aerosols, as well as water quality in lakes and shallow coastal waters.

TIRS will collect data on heat emitted from the Earth's surface in two thermal bands, as compared with a single thermal band on previous Landsat satellites. These thermal band observations are becoming increasingly vital to monitoring water consumption, especially in arid regions.

LDCM is expected to be renamed Landsat 8 once it shows itself to be fully up and running.

 

Further information

 

 
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