Earth from above: 10 best images from 40 years of Landsat

Landsat, the world's longest-running Earth-observing satellite program, has been capturing change on Earth for 40 years. NASA and U.S. Geological Survey scientists chose the 10 most significant images from this 40-year data record to highlight the program.



    Mount St. Helens: Volcanic Eruption and Recovery
    This photograph of downed trees was taken on June 8, 1980, a few weeks after the eruption. The blast flattened or damaged enough timber to build 150,000 homes.
    USGS/J.G. Rosenbaum


    Yellowstone National Park Historic Fires of 1988
    In 1988, fire transformed Yellowstone National Park into an apparent wasteland. Landsat captured the burn scars from the fires and watched the progress of the forest's recovery.
    NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA's Earth Observatory


    International Borders: Mexico and Guatemala
    These two images show changes in plant and tree growth near the Mexico-Guatemala border over time. At left, bare ground in pink, young regrowth and farms in pale green, and mature trees in darker green in the late 80s. At right, the same area in recent years. While the border is still visible, logging and agriculture have taken down most of the trees outside, and sometimes inside, the Maya Biological Reserve.
    NASA's Earth Observatory


    Mining for Water in the Kansas Heartland
    These images from 1972 (left) and 2011 (right) show the transformation of Kansas farmland from dryland, rectangular fields to circular irrigated fields from center-pivot irrigation systems. The mining of ground water for agriculture has been a significant trend globally over the last half-century, and these images of a region in Kansas highlight the trend within the United States.
    NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center


    International Deforestation Patterns in Tropical Rainforests
    A detailed study of Landsat images by Tucker and David Skole, a physical scientist now at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., showed that the annual rate of deforestation in the Amazon from 1978 to 1988 was lower than previously thought, but the impact on biodiversity was much greater than assumed.


    Beijing: The Rise of an Economic Superpower
    Beijing from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASAs Terra satellite, captured on Aug. 8, 2007.
    NASA's Earth Observatory


    Uncovering Antarctica and Pinpointing Penguins
    In 2007 more than 1,100 Landsat 7 images were used to create the first ever, high-resolution, true color map of Antarctica. The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica is a virtually cloud-free, 3-D view of Antarctica's frozen landscape.
    NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/U.S. Geological Survey


    A Shrinking Aral Sea
    The Aral Sea in Central Asia began disappearing in the 1960s because of the diversion of its two feeder rivers for agriculture. This series of images illustrates unintended consequences of water management decisions. From left to right, the images were produced in 1977, 1998 and 2010.
    USGS EROS Data Center


    Columbia Glacier: A Swift Retreat
    The Columbia Glacier in Alaska is one of many vanishing around the world, one of the most direct and understandable effects of climate change, some argue.
    NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
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