Image from TERRA
Fri, 17 Aug 2018 13:56 EDT

NASA's Terra satellite looked at water vapor and cloud top temperatures when it passed over the recently strengthened Typhoon Soulik in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean.

Image from TERRA
Mon, 13 Aug 2018 14:29 EDT

The largest fire in California's history, the Mendocino Complex, is still spewing clouds of smoke across the state.

Image from TERRA
Mon, 13 Aug 2018 12:38 EDT

After Tropical Storm Yagi made landfall in China, NASA's Aqua satellite saw the storm was moving inland and dropping heavy rainfall.

Tag: Applications

Applications News and Events

Monitoring Volcanoes from Space: Volcanoes, ASTER and MODIS

Images of Wolf volcano on June 11, 2016. Image on left is from ASTER, showing Wolf Volcano in great detail. The image on the right is from MODIS. The red mark indicates a temperature anomaly or hot spot. Image Credit: Aster image from NASA Earth Observatory by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. MODIS image from NASA Worldview.

Images of Wolf volcano on June 11, 2015. ASTER image (left) shows Wolf Volcano in great detail. MODIS image (right) red marks indicate temperature anomalies or hot spots. Image Credit: Aster image from NASA Earth Observatory by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. MODIS image from NASA Worldview.

Not every volcano is as closely observed as Mount Saint Helens in Washington state or Mount Kilauea of Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. These active volcanoes are closely monitored with specialized instruments dedicated to monitoring signs of volcanic activity. They are the exception, not the norm. Many volcanoes are remotely located and poorly monitored. However, NASA’s Terra satellite is helping identify potentially active volcanoes, better equipping surrounding communities to evacuate or take precautions before their local volcano erupts.

Two instruments on NASA’s Terra satellite, the Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emissions and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), along with instruments on other NASA and NOAA satellites are being used to identify and monitor potential areas of volcanic activity as part of the Urgent Request Protocol.

Not one satellite can do it all. “Monitoring of active volcanic processes using spaceborne data commonly requires different temporal, spatial and spectral scales depending on the science goal and process being observed,” according to Michael Ramsey from the University of Pittsburgh in his recent article, published on December 17, 2015.

Hotspots on Earth are identified by satellite images that have a thermal sensor, which measures the temperature, or infrared radiation, of Earth’s surface.MODIS, the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) and ASTER all collect data on Earth’s temperature, but each of these sensors have different spatial resolutions. MODIS and AVHRR image large areas frequently, but lack detail. ASTER, on the other hand, has high spatial and spectral resolution, but lacks frequency.

AVHRR, MODIS and ASTER teamed up as part of the Urgent Request Protocol. AVHRR data was initially used exclusively until 2011, when MODIS data was integrated into the system. AVHRR and MODIS identify temperature changes on Earth’s surface that could indicate volcanic activity. These areas are flagged as being potentially active. When they are flagged, these locations are sent automatically to the Urgent Request Protocol database, where a request is submitted that ASTER look at these locations more closely on its next opportunity.

This allows stakeholders to potentially track detailed changes on that site every time ASTER passes. Prior to 2011, scientists manually reviewed flagged hotspots before being submitted to the Urgent Request Protocol for imaging by ASTER.

One benefit of using MODIS data over AVHRR is that it allows the system to be automated because MODIS data has less noise than AVHRR and has a higher detection threshold, reducing the number of false positives detected. Additionally, MODIS data is part of a global system where as the volcanic monitoring from AVHRR is isolated to the north Pacific region.

Beyond its global reach, the Urgent Request Protocol is one of the longest running programs focused on mission operations and volcanic science. Stakeholders and scientists anticipate the launch of the Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI), which will have a thermal infrared imager similar to ASTER on board. Information acquired by ASTER is used in the development of HyspIRI and future thermal infrared sensors, contributing to the extended satellite record and the next generation of Earth observing satellites tracking volcanic threats from space.

Watching from their vantage point outside of Earth, satellites will continue to witness volcanic eruptions and volcanic activity. While no one satellite can see the whole picture, when multiple satellites with the ability to measure Earth’s temperature frequently or in great detail are used together like in the Urgent Request Protocol, people benefit. The strong foundation laid by the Urgent Request Protocol will allow new data from the next fleet of satellites to continue to help people prepare for volcanic incidents.

New environmental observation methods see the forest for the trees

Walong Nature Reserve

Researchers at Michigan State University’s  Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability are combining images from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Landsat with information taken on the ground, to increase understanding of how biodiversity is changing in China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, home to the giant panda.

Read the whole article from Michigan State University.

Terra and the Hottest Year on Record

Global temperature anomolies

2015 was the warmest year since modern record-keeping began in 1880, according to a new analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The record-breaking year continues a long-term warming trend — 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have now occurred since 2001. Credits: Scientific Visualization Studio/Goddard Space Flight Center

2015 was the hottest year ever recorded*, but what does Terra have to do with it?

On January 20th, 2016, scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their analysis based on data gathered on Earth’s surface temperatures. There are two primary sources of data, ground measurements and satellite. While GISS and NOAA studies relied on surface-based measurements, data from satellite instruments, such as those on-board NASA’s Terra satellite are critical for better understanding of global temperatures as a function of time.

“The length and quality of the Terra data record makes it well suited as a check of the global temperature results and can help guide choices on ways to process the surface data,” according the Kurt Thome, Terra project scientist. Three of the Terra sensors have data that are well suited to serve as a validation source, allowing the researchers and scientists to go back and check their data. If surface and satellite measurements are the same, then the scientists responsible for creating the data products can conclude that the product is accurate. This increases confidence in the satellite data’s accuracy as well as verifying that the ground measurements are also accurate. When accurate data is put into the climate models the accuracy of the models is increased.

The Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) measures Land Surface Temperatures (LST) and Sea Surface Temperatures (SST). There are two MODIS instruments in orbit, one on Terra and the other on Aqua. While the data analyzed in the NASA/NOAA report relies primarily on data from ground stations, the data gathered by MODIS can help “fill in the blanks” of areas where there are not many ground observations available. The data from MODIS, not only can be used to verify that ground instruments are working correctly, but it can also be used to add values to the climate models, that may otherwise be left blank.

The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) also on NASA’s Terra Satellite, can sense temperature emissions, but at a higher resolution than MODIS.   In fact, ASTER is responsible for the highest resolution global emissivity database. While emissivity isn’t the same as land surface temperature the two are linked because how well a material emits combined with its temperature determines how much energy is given off. When temperatures rise, areas that were once vegetated can become arid causing a change in the emissivity and further changing how energy is distributed between vegetated and arid regions. ASTER, with its narrow swath and high resolution, required several years to create its global emissivity product. Combining the ASTER results with the daily MODIS measurements allows MODIS scientists to retrieve daily LST.

Finally, Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) measures both emitted energy from the earth and solar-reflected energy. Combining these data with the amount of incident solar energy allows CERES scientists to do a full accounting of the Earth’s energy budget. Less reflected energy and greater emitted energy implies a warming planet. CERES, through measuring the amount of energy in the form of heat that is coming from Earth, can be used to validate ground measurements from weather stations. Conversely the ground stations can validate the measurements taken by CERES. Like MODIS and ASTER, this helps increase confidence in the current climate models.

While satellite monitoring of the Earth is relatively new compared the hundreds of years of historic records, satellite data is increasingly being used to help validate the most recent additions to the historic record. Satellite data allows scientists to get global coverage and increase confidence in the data that feeds climate models. Even though Earth is warming, satellite data are better equipped to model the increased temperatures and help citizens and policymakers understand the implications.


Read the press release from NASA GISS and NOAA

Read more on NASA’s Earth Observatory

*modern record keeping began in 1880.

Terra showcased in 100 Remote Sensing Uses from GIS Geography


Image from GIS Geography. 100 Earth Shattering Uses and Applications of Remote Sensing.

GIS Geography published a list of 100 uses and applications of remote sensing, where data from NASA’s Terra satellite appeared in over 10%.

Listed below are some examples of Terra data uses that made the list (numbered by their original order in the article from GIS Geography):

13. Identifying forest stands and tallying their area to estimate forest supplies (MODIS)

26. Fighting wildfires by planning firefighter dispatch (MODIS)

27. Monitoring air quality in the lower atmosphere (MOPITT)

38. Keeping tabs on the shift from rural to urban growth (MODIS)

39. Quantifying crop conditions with Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI from MODIS)

59. Monitoring active volcanoes using thermal remote sensing (ASTER, MISR, and MODIS)

66. Looking at the Earth as an art masterpiece NASA’s Earth as Art | NASA Visible Earth

70. Comparing climatic factors from past to present (MODIS, CERES, MOPITT)

75. Studying geology of the Earth’s surface (ASTER, MISR, MODIS)

77. Measuring albedo for Earth’s radiation budget (CERES)

83. Delineating watersheds using DEMs for hydrologists (ASTER)

85. Using a least-cost analysis and vegetation to understand wildebeest migration (NDVI from MODIS)

Read the whole list and learn more about each of the uses and applications of remote sensing at 100 Earth Shattering Remote Sensing Applications Uses from GIS Geography

Shrinking Shoreline of the Salton Sea

Salton Sea as seen by ASTER

NASA Earth Observatory images by Jesse Allen, using ASTER data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team, and Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Fed primarily from agricultural irrigation runoff, the Salton Sea in southern California’s Sonoran Desert has dropped by 8 feet since 1984. While drought in California has contributed to the receding shoreline, water conservation efforts also play a role. The sea may be reduced to two small pools by the 2030s. The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image showing the exposed Deltas along its southern shore.

Read the whole article on NASA’s Earth Observatory