Canadian Forest Service Publications

Fifty years of Landsat science and impacts

Year: 2022

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 40753

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

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Abstract

Since 1972, the Landsat program has been continually monitoring the Earth, to now provide 50 years of digital, multispectral, medium spatial resolution observations. Over this time, Landsat data were crucial for many scientific and technical advances. Prior to the Landsat program, detailed, synoptic depictions of the Earth's surface were rare, and the ability to acquire and work with large datasets was limited. The early years of the Landsat program delivered a series of technological breakthroughs, pioneering new methods, and demonstrating the ability and capacity of digital satellite imagery, creating a template for other global Earth observation missions and programs. Innovations driven by the Landsat program have paved the way for subsequent science, application, and policy support activities. The economic and scientific value of the knowledge gained through the Landsat program has been long recognized, and despite periods of funding uncertainty, has resulted in the program's 50 years of continuity, as well as substantive and ongoing improvements to payload and mission performance. Free and open access to Landsat data, enacted in 2008, was unprecedented for medium spatial resolution Earth observation data and substantially increased usage and led to a proliferation of science and application opportunities. Here, we highlight key developments over the past 50 years of the Landsat program that have influenced and changed our scientific understanding of the Earth system. Major scientific and programmatic impacts have been realized in the areas of agricultural crop mapping and water use, climate change drivers and impacts, ecosystems and land cover monitoring, and mapping the changing human footprint. The introduction of Landsat collection processing, coupled with the free and open data policy, facilitated a transition in Landsat data usage away from single images and towards time series analyses over large areas and has fostered the widespread use of science-grade data. The launch of Landsat-9 on September 27, 2021, and the advanced planning of its successor mission, Landsat-Next, underscore the sustained institutional support for the program. Such support and commitment to continuity is recognition of both the historic impact the program, and the future potential to build upon Landsat's remarkable 50-year legacy.