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NASA releases first images taken by Landsat climate change monitoring mission

NASA has released the first images of Earth taken by the Landsat 9 mission which is designed to capture high-resolution snapshots of the planet to help track climate change.

The pictures, taken from an altitude of 705km, were all snapped on 31 October by the joint mission between NASA and the US Geological Survey.

According to the space agency, they “provide a preview of how the mission will help people manage vital natural resources and understand the impacts of climate change”.

The first image collected by Landsat 9, on Oct. 31, 2021, shows remote coastal islands and inlets of the Kimberly region of Western Australia.
Image: The first image collected by Landsat 9, shows remote coastal islands and inlets of the Kimberly region of Western Australia

The Landsat programme is longest-running satellite imagery mission in existence, and began with the launch of Landsat 1 in 1972.

The most recent launch, Landsat 9, took place this September, riding into orbit on the back of a powerful Atlas V rocket – and its first pictures have now been published.

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The white sands of Pensacola Beach stand out in this Landsat 9 image of the Florida Panhandle of the United States, with Panama City visible under some popcorn-like clouds. Landsat and other remote sensing satellites help to track changes to US coastlines, including urban development and potential impacts of rising sea levels.
Image: The white sands of Pensacola Beach stand out in this Landsat 9 image of the Florida Panhandle

“Landsat 9’s first images capture critical observations about our changing planet and will advance this joint mission of NASA and the US Geological Survey that provides critical data about Earth’s landscapes and coastlines seen from space,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

“This program has the proven power to not only improve lives but also save lives,” Mr Nelson added.

“NASA will continue to work with USGS to strengthen and improve accessibility to Landsat data so decision makers in America – and around the world – better understand the devastation of the climate crisis, manage agricultural practices, preserve precious resources and respond more effectively to natural disasters.”

In the Western U.S., in places like the Navajo Nation as seen in this Landsat 9 image, Landsat and other satellite data help people monitor drought conditions and manage irrigation water.
Image: In places like the Navajo Nation, Landsat data helps people monitor drought conditions and manage irrigation water

The images show locations from around the US and world, including Detroit in Michigan beside Lake St Clair, the intersection of cities on the changing Florida coastline, and images from Navajo Country in Arizona “that will add to the wealth of data helping us monitor crop health and manage irrigation water”.

Alongside these domestic pictures, Landsat 9 has snapped the changing landscapes of the Himalayas in High Mountain Asia and the coastal islands and shorelines of Northern Australia.

The city of Kathmandu, Nepal, seen at the bottom left of this Landsat 9 image, lies in a valley south of the Himalayan Mountains between Nepal and China. Glaciers, and the lakes formed by glacial meltwater, are visible in the top middle of this image.
Image: The city of Kathmandu, Nepal, seen at the bottom left of this Landsat 9 image

“First light is a big milestone for Landsat users – it’s the first chance to really see the kind of quality that Landsat 9 provides. And they look fantastic,” said Jeff Masek NASA’s Landsat 9 project scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center.

“When we have Landsat 9 operating in coordination with Landsat 8, it’s going to be this wealth of data, allowing us to monitor changes to our home planet every eight days,” Mr Masek added.

“The data and images from Landsat 9 are expanding our capability to see how Earth has changed over decades,” said Karen St. Germain, Earth Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“In a changing climate, continuous and free access to Landsat data, and the other data in NASA’s Earth observing fleet, helps data users, including city planners, farmers and scientists, plan for the future.”

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