SciSun: Well Grounded   Leave a comment

A few weeks ago when we talked about soil and gave you all the dirt about different types of ground, we didn’t think there would be more to report so soon. But information just landed on our desk, that earlier this month NASA (yes, the Space Exploration NASA) handed over control of the Landsat 8 satellite to the US Geological Survey (USGS). This means that this latest-technology can now be used to collect and research hundreds of photos, every day, of the Earth and Earth systems like weather patterns; temperature and climate changes; and observe the effects of natural and man-made actions on the Earths surface.

Versions of Landsat have been orbiting and documenting the Earth since 1972. Landsat versions 1 through 3 were equipped with what’s now considered simple technology (simple for a NASA spacecraft, that is), such as two-color cameras and near-infrared monitors; even so, the first mission discovered an unknown island off the coast of Canada (you’d think someone would have known about an entire island before it was seen from space). With each new Landsat series (4 – 7) the technology became more and more sophisticated until the current Landsat 8 –which is actually named Landsat Data Continuity Mission – is now able to continually scan and photograph Earths surface using an array of equipment including visible (color); near-infrared; short wave infrared; and thermal infrared monitors.

That’s a lot of information, and a ton of photos, that scientists can review – and anyone can download free at USGS Landsat and NASA sites. But other than pretty full-color pictures of the Earth from space to look at (which we have to admit, is pretty cool in itself), after 40 years of documentation, do we really need another satellite monitoring areas of Earth that probably have already been photographed hundreds of times and researched until there’s nothing new to learn? We have to remember Earth is a living object – both home to every plant and animal we know (and many that still haven’t been discovered); and the Earth itself consists of many inter-related and dependent systems and processes such as ocean currents, wind patterns, and migratory movements of animals; so that some believe the entire planet might be considered a unique, living organism – although one very different than anything we currently define as living.

Landsat images of the Las Vegas, Nevada area, taken in 1984 (left) and 2011 (right). The city - grey and green - is bigger. The lake - dark blue - is smaller. When there's no more lake, there's no more city.

Landsat images of the Las Vegas, Nevada area, taken in 1984 (left) and 2011 (right). The city – grey and green – is bigger. The lake – dark blue – is smaller. When there’s no more lake, there’s no more city.

Also (or because?) the Earth is constantly changing – both naturally and due to man-made actions – having a heads-up on the condition of the only home we know, is a really good idea when all life on Earth depends on how we live and care for the single planet we all depend upon.

Maybe one of the best ways to understand the surface of Earth, and how our land and resources are used, and how changes in and on the land impacts our environment, is through the ‘eye in the sky’ satellites that help us see just how lonely and venerable our Earth really is. Sometimes only by understanding the bigger picture, can we all remain well grounded.


Michonne Says: Marmots are always on the ground. Sometimes we’re under the ground. So I don’t know what’s so interesting about anything above the ground. Phooey.

Posted June 30, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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