Landsat's Role in Responding to Disasters
In 2022, the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) reported 387 natural hazards and disasters worldwide, resulting in the loss of over 30,000 lives and affecting more than 185 million individuals. Economic losses totaled around US$223.8 billion. Fires, floods, heat waves, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters can be particularly tragic and costly when critical facilities such as power plants, airports, roads, and hospitals are threatened. When a disaster strikes, remote sensing is often the only way to get a big-picture view of what is happening on the ground. With its consistent, reliable, repeated observations of Earth’s changing surface, Landsat keeps a record of Earth’s land surfaces before and after disasters, serving as an essential tool for assessing risk, mapping the extent of damage, and planning post-disaster recovery. Landsat produces 185-kilometer-wide images with 30-meter resolution in visible and infrared wavelengths of light, making it possible to map impacts on the landscape in ways otherwise not visible to human sight. For example, Landsat sensors enable us to see the heat from fires both during and after the burns, and the lava flows from volcanic eruptions even when gaseous substances obscure the view to human eyes.
Using 30 years of Landsat data, researchers have found that the volume of glacial lakes worldwide has increased by about 50% since 1990.
Landsat data (since 1972) is helping scientists Sean Healey and Zhiqiang Yang of the Rocky Mountain Research Station (U.S. Forest Service) study the long-term impact of the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens.
Landsat continues to support the International Disaster Charter.