Earth Observation News

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Landsat Views of Earth Help Bring the Mail

Two images from the Landsat 7 satellite are included in the new U.S Post Office series of 15 Earthscapes Forever stamps. Released October 1 to kick off National Stamp Collecting Month, the stamps vividly portray America’s diverse landscapes as viewed from heights of several hundred feet above the Earth to several hundred miles in space.

“Once you’ve seen the world from above, you never look at it quite the same way again,” said U.S. Postal Service Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President Joseph Corbett, Washington. “That’s why the Postal Service is proud to offer these Earthscapes stamps, which invite us to take a bird’s eye view of the land we all share.”

The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA. Remote-sensing satellites, such as the Landsat series, help scientists to observe the world beyond the power of human sight, to monitor changes, and to detect critical trends in the conditions of natural resources. USGS conducts the daily operations of the Landsat 7 satellite.


The Earthscapes collection presents examples of three broad categories of the way that human actions intersect with the land — natural, agricultural, and urban. The colorfully patterned portraits were all created high above the planet’s surface, either carefully composed by photographers in aircraft or routinely imaged by the Landsat 7 satellite while orbiting the Earth at an altitude of over 400 miles.

Each stamp, within its limited amount of space, represents only a stylized fragment of a geographical area, which may or may not be typical of a particular region. Still, they offer stamp customers an opportunity to see the world in a new way.

The two stamps that feature Landsat images — Volcanic Crater and Center-pivot irrigation — depict a natural disaster site, Mount Saint Helens, and an agricultural practice that is common in the Garden City, Kansas area.

Volcanic Crater

Mount St. Helens and its surrounding area continue to recover from the explosive eruption of May 1980. Shades of white and gray indicate still-bare slopes; dark “rivers” are deep channels cut by fast-moving flows of hot ash, rock, and gas. Green represents regrowth of vegetation.

Center-pivot irrigation

Circular patterns on Kansas cropland show center-pivot sprinkler systems have been at work. Red circles indicate healthy, irrigated crops; lighter circles represent harvested crops. Corn, wheat, alfalfa, soybeans, and grain sorghum account for most of the irrigated acreage in Kansas.

A Long View from Space

Two images from the Landsat 7 satellite were included in the U.S Post Office series of 15 Earthscapes Forever stamps released Oct. 1, 2012.

Remote-sensing satellites, such as the Landsat series, help scientists to observe the world beyond the power of human sight, to monitor changes, and to detect critical trends in the conditions of natural resources. Data supplied by Landsat supports the improvement of human and environmental health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery, and crop monitoring.

USGS archives and distributes the massive amount of Earth observation data that has been collected by the Landsat satellite series since 1972. This extended record — now four decades long — forms an impartial, comprehensive, and easily accessed register of human and natural changes on the land.

Earth as Art

Beyond the scientific information they confer, some Landsat images are simply striking to look at, as illustrated in the Earthscapes collection. In fact, among the millions of freely accessible Landsat images, many present spectacular views of mountains, valleys, and islands; forests, grasslands, and agricultural patterns. By selecting certain features and coloring them from a digital palate, the USGS has created a series of Earth as Art perspectives that demonstrate an artistic resonance in land imagery and provide a special avenue of insight about the geography of each scene.

As part of the Landsat 40th Anniversary Celebration this summer, the USGS and NASA held an online contest in which more 14,000 people voted on their Top Five favorite Earth as Art images.

On the horizon

NASA is preparing to launch the next Landsat satellite, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), on February 11, 2013, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. LDCM will be the most technologically advanced satellite in the Landsat series. LDCM sensors take advantage of evolutionary advances in detector and sensor technologies to improve performance and increase reliability. Once it successfully achieves orbit, LDCM will join the Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellites as Landsat 8 to continue the Landsat data record.

Links and resources
USGS Landsat
NASA Landsat
Earth as Art Image Gallery
History and overview of the Landsat program