Landsat's Critical Role in Understanding Climate Change
Long-term weather patterns averaged over 30 years or more make up our climate. Human well-being—our infrastructure and agriculture—depend on a reliable climate. This reliability allows farmers to plant seeds in the spring with confidence that temperatures and rainfall will sustain crops in the coming months. It allows communities to build and maintain roads, buildings, and drainage systems best suited to local conditions. Earth’s climate is controlled by the amount of energy that flows through the atmosphere, oceans, and land. By adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere—primarily carbon dioxide—people are increasing the amount of energy in the Earth system that would otherwise escape to space. This increase in energy is changing Earth’s climate, and consequently, the weather patterns that people rely on are shifting. Changes in long-term weather patterns have wide-ranging impacts on ecosystems and peoples’ lives. Designed to observe land and coastal ecosystems, Landsat instruments provide an unparalleled space-based record of the impact of climate change on Earth’s landscapes, the growth and loss of carbon- storing.
Landsat has shown that wildfires and climbing temperatures have caused a 6.7 percent decline in California tree cover since 1985.
Despite the rapid melting of ice in many parts of Antarctica during the second half of the 20th century, researchers have found that the floating ice shelves which skirt the eastern Antarctic Peninsula have undergone sustained advance over the past 20 years.
An analysis of over a million Landsat images has revealed that 4,000 square kilometres of tidal wetlands have been lost globally over twenty years.
Satellites have helped show that strong tidal activity may facilitate water-induced fracturing, or hydrofracturing, where land ice transitions to floating ice shelf and cause the meltwater lake to drain quickly, often in as little as several days.
Rooftop gardens and greenery can help ease some of the severe heat in cities, according to research from climate scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.