New generation Earth observation data is now available

28 February 2022

Peter Doucette, Acting Director of the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center has announced that data from the newest Landsat satellite is now publicly available following the September 2021 launch and a period of calibration and testing.

This latest generation of satellite is part of an ongoing mission from the USGS to collect data about the Earth and send it back down to us, providing the next chapter in a 40-year-long story about the Earth and how it changes.

Together with existing datasets from Landsat 1 through to Landsat 8, Landsat 9’s data demonstrates how the Earth has changed over the last four decades.

Geoscience Australia’s Head of National Earth and Marine Observations, Maree Wilson, said the data from the new satellite demonstrates an outstanding increase in quality.

“It provides what we call precise brightness variability, which really improves the image precision,” Ms Wilson said.

Ms Wilson explained that the improvements mean that much smaller changes in the brightness of surfaces can be detected. This is particularly important over surfaces where the brightness of reflected light is very low, such as over water, which allows us to better monitor water quality and depth.

Geoscience Australia is an important partner in this ongoing mission and uses the Earth observation data from satellites like Landsat 9 to build tools and products that help Australians every day.

Just one of these many tools is Digital Earth Australia Hotspots, which provides information to emergency managers across Australia about 'hotspots', enabling users to identify the locations of fire that create a potential risk to communities and property.

Landsat 9 data will be delivered in a format that is consistent with currently available data from the previous Landsat satellites. This provides an unbroken story of land changes through over 40 years of Earth observation data.

Earth observation data is a valuable resource for all kinds of land management applications. It is used by Geoscience Australia and other organisations to better understand environmental conditions such as soil and coastal erosion, impacts of land management practices, deforestation, urban development, and water quality and availability.

Ms Wilson pointed to the number of products that have come out of the Digital Earth Australia program just in the last few years that rely on Landsat data.

“Digital Earth Australia can identify and track waterbodies, coastlines, and landcover: all using satellite data,” Ms Wilson said.

Three decades of Landsat satellite imagery captured over Sydney’s Botany Bay

“Digital Earth Australia (DEA) provides over 30 years of free and open satellite data and derived information products that support decision-making across government and inform industry investment decisions in sectors ranging from mining and agriculture to environmental and emergency management.”

DEA provides national-scale imagery that shows how our landscape has changed over time, right down to the paddock scale.

Geoscience Australia is continuing to partner with the USGS to collect and exploit this high-quality satellite data and make it openly available to innovators, researchers, industry and government.

The Australian Government has a long history of supporting the Landsat mission, as Director Observatory Operations and Data Jonathan Bathgate explains.

“Geoscience Australia’s satellite ground station at Alice Springs has been in operation since 1979.

“It is one of just three outside the United States that form the Landsat ground station network, working together to collect the data from the satellites.”

As well as operating the ground station, Geoscience Australia provides technical expertise by installing, maintaining and upgrading infrastructure.

“Our experts also have an important role in managing the data from Landsat satellites and making it available for use,” Dr Bathgate added.

“We have in-house multi-disciplinary expertise in data collection, cleaning, and sharing.”

The new Landsat 9 data will be included in Geoscience Australia’s longitudinal data and products via the DEA program.

You can find out more about the world of Earth observation data here.