1 February 2018
Free access to Earth observation data? For that we can thank Landsat’s move to an open data policy, according to Barbara Ryan, director of the Group on Earth Observations Secretariat in Geneva. In a short video posted on Landsat’s twitter feed, Ryan calls the move to free access “a paradigm shift for the world” and adds that she’s “absolutely convinced” Europe would not have adopted a broad, open data policy for its Copernicus programme, the Sentinel series, if the US was still selling Landsat data. “There’s no doubt about it,” insists Ryan. She says of Landsat it has “changed people’s views of the planet …. and how the Earth is changing.” But more than that: “For any administration, whether it’s environmental governance or transparency or education or capacity building or economic growth, broad open data is the only way you are going to get there.”
Ryan’s assessment of Landsat’s impact comes on the eve of the five-year anniversary of the launch of Landsat 8. The Landsat series, run by US Geological Survey and NASA, represents the world’s longest continuously acquired collection of space-based land images. There are four decades, going back to July 1972, of imagery useful for agriculture, geology, forestry, regional planning, mapping and global change research as well as emergency response. Landsat 8 is a big bus at 3m by 2.4m weighing 2,071kg (when fully loaded with fuel but without instruments) flying in a Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 705km; it covers the entire globe every 16 days (except for the highest polar latitudes).