Valuing "Windows on the World"

Mar 26, 2010 | Peter Nelson
 USGSCredit: U.S. Geological Survey  

For 37 years, the satellites of the Landsat
, run jointly by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey have been orbiting overhead snapping images of Earth’s natural and environmental resources. The resulting image catalog constitutes unparalleled information for economic and policy analyses. But is the investment worth it?

Two new papers from RFF researchers explore unconventional methods for determining the value of Landsat and other remote sensing information and provide insight into future applications.  

In “From Science to Applications: Determinants of Diffusion in the Use of Earth Observations,” (RFF DP 10-03) authors Molly K. Macauley, Joe Maher, and Jhih-Shyang Shih identify trends in applications over time with a systematic approach using peer-reviewed literature and bibliometric statistics.

They find that lower data costs and tools like geographic information systems have contributed to increasing applications of this information. Additionally, more research is focusing on trend data, lending support to the case for data continuity to provide time series. They also find trends substantiating space-based Earth observations as a somewhat unique “window on the world” in understanding resource management in countries outside of the United States.

Macauley and Shih examine the benefits of investing in new sensing technology in the context of forest carbon measurement in “Assessing Investment in Future Landsat Instruments: The Example of Forest Carbon
” (RFF DP 10-14). Their research estimates that future benefits of Landsat data for assessing forest carbon could be on the order of $1 billion annually, provided that the global coverage of Landsat can meet the lack—in many countries—of alternative means of measurement.