Landsat 8 Observing Earth with a clearer view

An ash plume drifts from Paluweh volcano in Indonesia. Image taken April 29, 2013 from the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM, now Landsat 8) Operational Land Imager instrument. Courtesy NASA.
An ash plume drifts from Paluweh volcano in Indonesia. Image taken April 29, 2013 from the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM, now Landsat 8) Operational Land Imager instrument. Courtesy NASA.

The latest in the Landsat series of Earth observation satellites, Landsat 8, officially begins its mission on May 30 to extend an unparalleled four-decade record of Earth’s land surface as seen from space. The Landsat program is a joint effort between the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA.

NASA launched the Landsat Data Continuity Mission satellite on February 11. Since then, NASA mission engineers and scientists, with USGS collaboration, have been putting the satellite through its paces – steering it into its orbit, focusing the instruments, calibrating the detectors, and collecting test images. Now fully mission-certified, the satellite will be transferred to USGS operational control and renamed  Landsat 8.

As the world’s population surpasses seven billion people, the impact of human society on the planet is increasing. The continuation of Landsat’s four-decade look at Earth will help monitor those impacts and more accurately forecast future environmental change.

A big picture, but more

Landsat images from space are not just pictures. They contain many layers of data collected at different points along the visible and invisible light spectrum. Consequently, Landsat images can show where vegetation is thriving and where it is stressed, where droughts are occurring, and where wildland fire is a danger.

Landsat satellites give us a view as broad as 12,000 square miles per scene while describing land cover in units the size of a baseball diamond. From a distance of more than 400 miles above the earth surface, a single Landsat scene can record the condition of hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, agricultural crops, or forests.

Landsat images reveal subtle, gradual changes, such as Wyoming rangelands greening up after a drought, as well as massive landscape changes that occur in rapidly growing urban areas. Landsat can also provide broad assessments of sudden natural or human-induced disasters, such as the number of acres charred by a forest fire or the extent of tsunami inundation. Landsat data have been used to monitor water quality, glacier recession, sea ice movement, invasive species encroachment, coral reef health, land use change, deforestation rates, and population growth.

LDCM image acquired March 22, 2013. LDCM looks back to its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Courtesy NASA.

LDCM image acquired March 22, 2013. LDCM looks back to its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Courtesy NASA.

Landsat 8 brings a clearer view  

Landsat 8 is about the size of a delivery truck with a 30-foot-long deployed sheet of solar panels. Stocked with a 10-year supply of fuel, the satellite travels at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour.  It carries two highly-sensitive observation instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS). Advanced technology increases the reliability and sensitivity of these instruments, while the improved measurements are still compatible with the past Landsat data record.

The technical capabilities of Landsat 8 move forward in three areas in comparison to Landsat 7:  increased spectral coverage; higher data precision (the ultimate resolution is not changed); and increased quantity of data collection (60% more scenes per day).

Landsat 8 will orbit Earth once every 99 minutes at an average altitude of 438 miles (705 kilometers),  repeating the same ground track every 16 days.  As Landsat 8 joins Landsat 7 in imaging the Earth, researchers and natural resource managers will once again be able to receive Landsat data every eight days for any given location. Many Landsat users depend on a short repeat cycle for prompt data on resources such as agricultural crops, forests, and water.  The USGS, NASA, and aerospace contractors have worked diligently to ensure that Landsat 8 would be operational in time for the 2013 North American growing season.

ven in notoriously warm Phoenix, AZ, the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) aboard LDCM (now Landsat 8) shows cooler (darker) areas of irrigated agriculture (lower center of image) and mountain forests to the North. Courtesy NASA.
ven in notoriously warm Phoenix, AZ, the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) aboard LDCM (now Landsat 8) shows cooler (darker) areas of irrigated agriculture (lower center of image) and mountain forests to the North. Courtesy NASA.

Free data for innovation

Beginning May 30, Landsat 8 data will be available from the USGS data archive free of charge. The Department of the Interior and USGS policy of unrestricted access and free distribution of Landsat data encourages researchers everywhere to develop practical applications of the data.  Special-purpose applications of Landsat data can serve commercial endeavors in agriculture and forestry; they can enable land managers in and out of government to work more efficiently; they can assist scientists in defining and assessing critical environmental issues. Ready access to authoritative Landsat images provides a reliable common record of Earth conditions that advances the mutual understanding of environmental challenges worldwide by citizens, researchers, and decision makers.

Two visually compelling examples of commercial systems that access the long record of consistent Landsat data to document land cover change around the globe are Google Timelapse and ESRI Change Matters.


Satellite Derived Sea Surface Temperatures (SST)

The Atlantic is much warmer than normal as NOAA issues today’s Hurricane Outlook for 2013. Parts of the Atlantic Basin are much warmer than normal especially in the breeding ground for hurricanes off the west coast of Africa. These higher than normal temperatures, along with reduced wind shear due to the absence of El Niño are just some of the reasons why NOAA is predicting an active to very active Atlantic hurricane season in 2013. This image from PO.DAAC’s State of the Ocean (SOTO) tool (, shows how the satellite derived sea surface temperatures (SST) differ from the average (i.e., SST anomalies) on May 19, 2013. Warmer than normal areas are colored red while cooler areas are colored blue.

For Seeing the Google Eartt Map of sea surface temperatures (SST) Click This Link

Source: NASA Website

Map of where the world’s atheists live

atheism-map (Data source: WIN/Gallup International poll)

There’s surprisingly little data available on the subject. But a 2012 poll by WIN/Gallup International — an international polling firm that is not associated with the D.C.-based Gallup group — asked more than 50,000 people in 40 countries whether they considered themselves “religious,” “not religious” or “convinced atheist.” Overall, the poll concluded that roughly 13 percent of global respondents identified as atheists, more than double the percentage in the U.S.

The highest reported share of self-described atheists is in China: an astounding 47 percent. Faith has a complicated history in China. The state is deeply skeptical of organized religion, which it has long considered a threat to its authority.

In the Taiping rebellion of the 19th century, a religious cult started a Chinese civil war that killed millions of people and left the country exposed to European powers. The official ideology of the Communist government scorned both “new” Western religions and more traditionally Chinese faiths, destroying countless temples and relics during the Cultural Revolution of 1967 to 1977. While today’s Chinese leaders do not seem to share Mao Zedong’s fervent belief that China’s rich religious history was holding it back from modernity, nor do they seem prepared to bring that history back.

Japan, where 31 percent call themselves atheist, is a little more complicated. While superficial religious observation is common – many weddings take place in churches – formal religious practice has never really recovered from the imperial era that culminated with World War Two.

For much of the 1920 through 1940s, Japan’s imperial government combined an extreme form of race-based nationalism with emperor-worship and traditional Shinto practice. Some symbols of that era still remain, such as the Yasukuni shrine, though they are deeply controversial and often associated with the country’s wartime abuses.

Like nationalism in Germany, a bit of a post-war taboo has developed around religion in Japan. Separately, there is an alarming trend in Japan of forced religious de-conversion, in which families may “kidnap” a loved one who as adopted a faith seen as too extreme, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and pressure them to give it up.

One of the most surprising datapoints here might be Saudi Arabia, where 5 percent say they’re atheist. Not a high number, to be sure, but higher than in many other countries, despite the extremely sensitive taboo against atheism in Saudi Arabia, which is also considered a serious crime. (In both Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, less than 1 percent of respondents called themselves atheists.) We looked earlier at the surprisingly robust community of underground Saudi atheists.

In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, religious sentiment is strong in Ghana, Nigeria, Armenia and Fiji, where more than nine in 10 people say they’re religious. WIN/Gallup notes that religiosity is highest among the poor and, to a lesser extent, among the less educated, which certainly correlates among the most religious countries. (Ghana’s GDP per capita, for instance, ranks 173rd worldwide.)

As for Italy, a stone’s throw from the Vatican chapel where Pope Francis spoke on Wednesday, the Catholic Church has little to fear. Despite a gradual slide in Catholic baptisms in Italy over the past several decades, nearly three-fourths of Italians consider themselves religious. That number has actually grown one percent since 2005, according to WIN/Gallup, bucking the trend toward weaker religious feeling seen elsewhere in the world.




The 10 Best Bets for Wrist-Mounted GPS

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Map of the best and worst countries to be a mother

Mother Index

A new report by Save the Children, a London-based NGO, gauges and ranks the conditions for mothers in almost every country in the world. Their annual report, just out, shows that Nordic countries are the best places to be mothers. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the worst.

The Mother’s Index, based on a wide range of data gathered from the United Nations and other sources, are mapped out above. Bluer countries are best for mothers, red countries are worst and purple are somewhere in the middle.

A few interesting details from the report :

  1. In India, 309,300 babies die every year within 24 hours of birth
  2. Motherhood is hard and dangerous in bottom-ranked countries : The report provides these facts about the average mother in the ten bottom-ranked countries, all of which are in Africa:• On average, 1 woman in 30 is likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause.

    • 1 child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday.

    • Eight out of 10 women are likely to suffer the loss of a child in their lifetime.1

  3. Northern Europe is the best for mothers, sub-Saharan Africa the worst
  4. Much more than just national wealth at play
  5. Many lack access to sufficient care during birth
  6. The U.S. scores poorly because of inequality


Map of the countries where people feel the most and least loved

Love Map; Data from Gallup. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)
Love Map; Data from Gallup. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

There’s some fascinating data embedded in this map, and much of it, befitting Valentine’s Day, is good news. In the vast majority of surveyed countries, most than half of respondents answered yes when asked if they’d felt a lot of love the previous day. The three countries with the very highest scores are, in this order, the Philippines (93 percent), Rwanda (92 percent) and Puerto Rico (90 percent). The region that appears to experience the most love is Latin America, followed by Southeast Asia and Western Europe.

What about the countries where fewer than half of respondents said they’d experience a lot of love the previous day? Most of them are former Soviet republics: Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caucuses region all consistently scored poorly. Interestingly, those countries also tend to have very high smoking rates.

Other low-scoring countries included Burma/Myanmar, Yemen, and three African states: Ethiopia, Chad and Morocco. In general, though, respondents in the Middle East and in sub-Saharan Africa seems to respond positively, if not in quite as large numbers as other parts of the world.

In the United States, 81 percent of respondents answered yes to the survey question. Americans are tied with Laotians, Argentineans, Belgians, Canadians and Greeks.

Not a single country scored in the bottom category on the map, with 25 percent or fewer of respondents answering yes to the question. If you’re wondering why I even bothered including that category, well, I thought we could use a little bit of good news. It is Valentine’s Day, after all.


Over 2006 and 2007, Gallup surveyed people in 136 countries about the amount of love in their lives, asking them, “Did you experience love for a lot of the day yesterday?” The point of the question was to determine the countries where people feel the most and least loved.



A revealing map of the world’s most and least ethnically diverse countries

Diversity map ; Data source: Harvard Institute for Economic Research
Diversity map ; Data source: Harvard Institute for Economic Research

The greener countries are more ethnically diverse and the orange countries more homogenous. There are a few trends you can see right away: countries in Europe and Northeast Asia tend to be the most homogenous, sub-Saharan African nations the most diverse. The Americas are generally somewhere in the middle. And richer countries appear more likely to be homogenous.

This map is particularly interesting viewed alongside data we examined yesterday on racial tolerance, as measured by the frequency with which people in certain countries said they would not want a neighbor from a different racial group.

When five economists and social scientists set out to measure ethnic diversity for a landmark 2002 paper for the Harvard Institute of Economic Research, they started by comparing data from an array of different sources: national censuses, Encyclopedia Brittanica, the CIA, Minority Rights Group International and a 1998 study called “Ethnic Groups Worldwide.” They looked for consistence and inconsistence in the reports to determine what data set would be most reliable and complete. Because data sources such as censuses or surveys are self-reported – in other words, people are classified how they ask to be classified – the ethnic group data reflects how people see themselves, not how they’re categorized by outsiders. Those results measured 650 ethnic groups in 190 countries.


The food security risk index – map

World Food Security Map
World Food Security Map

The index has been developed by the risk analysis company Maplecroft for governments, NGOs and business to use as a barometer to identify those countries which may be susceptible to famine and societal unrest stemming from food shortages and price fluctuations. This map shows the results of evaluating the availability, access and stability of food supplies in 197 countries, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations.