Results for: Human Presence

The Rise and Fall of Africa’s Great Lake: Scientists Try to Understand the Fluctuations of Lake Chad

More than 30 million people in Africa depend on Lake Chad for fresh water. But satellite and ground-based data show that the once-great lake now spans less than a tenth of the area it covered in the 1960s. Read more

Peering through the Sands of Time: Searching for the Origins of Space Archaeology

In searching for lost cities and ancient travel routes, an unlikely band of scientists and explorers helped develop a new set of tools for archaeology. Read more

Argentina After Dark

When viewed from a satellite in daylight, the landscape of central Argentina shows barely a sign of human settlement. But by night, the place could be mistaken for a game of luminescent connect-the-dots. Read more

Earth at Night

Satellite images of Earth at night have been a curiosity for the public and a tool of fundamental research for at least 25 years. They have provided a broad, beautiful picture, showing how humans have shaped the planet and lit up the darkness. Read more

World of Change: Sprawling Shanghai

If you could go back in time to the 1980s, you would find a city that is drastically different than today’s Shanghai. Read more

A Celebration of Clouds: From Space, Earth Has an Elegant Atmosphere

Clouds can be a nuisance when scientists are trying to observe features on Earth's surface. But at other times, clouds are exactly what they want to see. These images highlight some of the more unusual and beautiful clouds observed in recent years from space. Read more

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Still Cloudy, With a Chance of Clearing

It is the largest estuary in the United States and third largest in the world. Once sculpted and changed by ice, water, and powerful geologic forces over tens of millions of years, today's Bay is shaped by human forces as well. Read more

A Tale of Fire and Water: A NASA Scientist’s Quest to Understand the Rain in Africa

Charles Ichoku wants to understand whether fires in sub-Saharan Africa are changing the timing and duration of rains. The viability of Lake Chad may depend on what his team finds. Read more

Natural Beauty at Risk: Preparing for Climate Change in National Parks

Many National Parks were created to protect forests and ecosystems from development and fragmentation. But changes in temperature, rainfall, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could eventually do as much to remake forests as humans did with saws and fires and bulldozers. Read more

Methane Matters

The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has been fluctuating, mostly rising. The question is why. Scientists wonder if they have the right monitoring systems in place to answer that question adequately. Read more

Seeing Through the Smoky Pall: Observations from a Grim Indonesian Fire Season

Thick peat, El Niño weather, and economic development came together to produce prodigious fires and planet-warming emissions. Read more

Sea Level Rise Hits Home at NASA

Sea level rise is not just an academic concern for NASA satellites and scientists. With two-thirds of its infrastructure and assets situated on the coast, the agency has first-hand experience with the effects of rising waters. Read more

World of Change: Development of Orlando, Florida

Theme parks and other development has turned Central Florida from swampland to the most visited tourist region of the United States. Read more

Science in a Dark Freezer: A Tale of Icy Beards, Frozen Tools, and Wintering Over at the South Pole

NASA scientist Robert Benson was one of “eighteen crazy men and a dog” who set up the first permanent science base at the South Pole. Read more

Big Data Helps Scientists Dig Deeper

Empowered by free access to the Landsat data archive, earth scientists are using new computing tools to ask questions that were impossible to answer a decade ago. From week-to-week fluctuations in forests to year-to-year changes in land cover, researchers can now examine our planet in much greater detail. Read more

Growing Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay

While the sea overtakes much of the delta plain of the Mississippi River, sediment from the Atchafalaya River is building two new deltas to the west. Read more

Finding Floating Forests

Giant kelp forests are among Earth’s most productive habitats, but they are ephemeral. Researchers are using Landsat and a host of online friends to figure out where the forests are growing and declining. Read more

World of Change: Coastline Change

The shoreline of Cape Cod provides a visual case study in the evolution and dynamic motion of barrier islands and spits. Read more

World of Change: Shrinking Aral Sea

A massive irrigation project has devastated the Aral Sea over the past 50 years. These images show the decline of the Southern Aral Sea in the past decade, as well as the first steps of recovery in the Northern Aral Sea. Read more

An Aura of Success

On the 10th anniversary of the launch of NASA's Aura spacecraft, we offer 10 examples of how the satellite has changed our view of dust, pollution, aerosols, and ozone in our atmosphere. Read more

A Clearer View of Hazy Skies

Industrialization has brought incredible societal advances and difficult pollution problems. From space, we can see skies clearing in some regions and darkening in others. The thin blue line of our atmosphere is still quite vulnerable. Read more

Islands in the Sun

If the cold of winter is getting you down, take flight to some tropical islands. Here are a few of our favorites, as viewed from satellites and the International Space Station. We can take your mind, but you'll need your own travel agent to get your body there. Read more

Holidays from the Heights

Bask in the warm light of your computer screen and sample the festive sights of the season from the perspective of satellites and space station residents. Read more

Something Fishy in the Atlantic Night

There’s a city in the middle of the ocean…a city of fishing boats. Read more

Managing Fire in Etosha National Park

Prescribed fires should prevent blazes from raging out of control in one of Namibia’s most prized wildlife preserves. Read more

World of Change: Green Seasons of Maine

Not many places on Earth have year-round greenery and four distinct seasons. The images in this series show the four seasons of Maine, the most forest-covered state in the U.S.A. Read more

Out of the Blue and Into the Black

The night is nowhere near as dark as most of us think. In fact, the Earth is never really dark; it twinkles with lights from humans and nature. Read more

Looking Back on Ten Years of Aqua

Launched on May 4, 2002, NASA's Aqua satellite and its six instruments have provided a decade's worth of unprecedented views of our planet. Here are a few of our favorites. Read more

Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami: Looking Back from Space

In 2011, the fourth largest earthquake in history rocked the coast of Japan, spawning a devastating tsunami. Satellites and scientists had an unprecedented view of both. This gallery offers a glimpse of the broad scale of the destruction, of the recovery a year later, and of some new scientific understanding that emerged. Read more

Top 11 from 2011

The most-visited images published in the Earth Observatory from 2011 are featured in this gallery. Read more

Seeing Forests for the Trees and the Carbon: Mapping the World’s Forests in Three Dimensions

Earth has a carbon problem, and some think trees are the answer. Would it help to plant more? To cut down fewer? Does it matter where? Scientists are working to get a better inventory of the carbon stored in trees. Read more

World of Change: Athabasca Oil Sands

The Athabasca Oil Sands are at once a source of oil, of economic growth, and of environmental concern. This series of images shows the growth of surface mines around the Athabasca River from 1984 to the present. Read more

World of Change: Seasons of the Indus River

Fed by glaciers in the Himalayas and Karakorams — and by monsoon rains — the Indus River experiences substantial fluctuations every year. Because the river irrigates 18 million hectares of farmland, the landscape changes along with the river. Read more

Every Flight is a Mission to Planet Earth

Observing Earth from space is one of the NASA’s longest-standing science experiments. This photo essay pays homage to the unique view of Earth that the space shuttle has delivered for 30 years. Read more

Earth Matters Blog

Earth is an amazing planet, and the one that matters most to us. Let's have a conversation about it. Read more

Natural Disasters and NASA - What Is The Agency’s Role? An Interview with Michael Goodman

Working with basic researchers, engineers, and applied scientists--and a dozen satellite sensors--Michael Goodman helps assemble and coordinate NASA’s response to natural disasters and hazards. Read more

We Can See Clearly Now: ISS Window Observational Research Facility

New optical gear on the International Space Station is giving students and earth scientists a better view of our world. Read more

World of Change: Global Temperatures

The world is getting warmer, whatever the cause. According to an analysis by NASA scientists, the average global temperature has increased by about 0.8°Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975. Read more

Aerosols: Tiny Particles, Big Impact

Tiny aerosol particles can be found over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice sheets, and every ecosystem in between. They drift in the air from the stratosphere to the surface. Despite their small size, they have major impacts on our climate and our health. Read more

Gulf of Mexico Oil Slick Images: Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ explains why oil is more obvious in some satellite images than others and why the Earth Observatory doesn't post new images of the oil slick every day. Read more

Climate Q&A

From why global warming is a problem to whether increased solar activity could be behind it, this Q&A includes responses to common questions about climate change and global warming. Read more

World of Change: Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia

Based on data from the Landsat satellites, these natural-color images document the growth of the Hobet mine in Boone County, West Virginia, as it expands from ridge to ridge between. Read more

World of Change: Yellow River Delta

Once free to wander up and down the coast of the North China Plain, the Yellow River Delta has been shaped by levees, canals, and jetties in recent decades. Read more

Water Watchers

In Idaho, NASA’s Landsat satellites are helping officials manage water resources and settle conflicts. Read more

Perspectives: Why EOS Matters, 10 years later

Nearly a decade ago, ecologist Steve Running described how NASA’s Earth Observing System missions were going to help us answer this crucial question: Is the current human occupancy and activity of planet Earth sustainable? In 2009, he revisited the question, making the case that Earth-observing satellites are more important than ever as humanity begins to deal with a changing climate. Read more

Flying Steady: Mission Control Tunes Up Aqua’s Orbit

It takes work to maintain a satellite’s orbit. In the spring of 2009, mission controllers pilot NASA's Aqua satellite through a series of orbital maneuvers to correct the angle of the satellite’s flight path. Read more

Notes from the Field Blog: Journey to Galapagos

Following in Darwin's footsteps, NASA oceanographer Gene Feldman explores the remarkable Galapagos Islands. Read more

World of Change: Amazon Deforestation

The state of Rondônia in western Brazil is one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon. This series shows deforestation on the frontier in the northwestern part of the state between 2000 and 2012. Read more

The World We Avoided by Protecting the Ozone Layer

An international team of scientists used a state-of-the-art computer model to learn “what might have been” if ozone-destroying chemicals had not been banned through the 1989 Montreal Protocol. Read more

World of Change: Mesopotamia Marshes

In the years following the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi residents began reclaiming the country’s nearly decimated Mesopotamian marshes. This series of images documents the transformation of the fabled landscape between 2000 and 2009. Read more

World of Change: Urbanization of Dubai

To expand the possibilities for beachfront tourist development, Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, undertook a massive engineering project to create hundreds of artificial islands along its Persian Gulf coastline. Read more

Urban Rain

Most city dwellers worry about what the weather will do to their city, but for meteorologist Marshall Shepherd, the real question is what are cities doing to the weather. Read more


Questions from visitors to the Earth Observatory and answers from scientists. Read more

Looking for Lawns

Move over, corn. According to a satellite-based estimate, lawns constitute the largest area of irrigated crops in America. Read more

The Rising Cost of Natural Hazards

Disaster-related economic losses topped $145 billion in 2004, the latest in a disturbing upward trend. Has climate change increased the number and severity of natural disasters, or is the rising cost of natural disasters due to other human factors? Read more

Terra Turns Five

In February 2000, NASA's Terra satellite began measuring Earth's vital signs with a combination of accuracy, precision, and resolution the world had never before seen. While the mission is still in the process of fulfilling its main science objectives, Terra's portfolio of achievements to date already marks the mission a resounding success. Read more

Mayan Mysteries

Satellite data help scientists understand Mesoamerica's past and point the way toward a brighter future. Read more

A New IDEA in Air Quality Monitoring

NASA satellite data of regional haze allow EPA scientists to expand their focus from local to regional air quality monitoring and forecasting. Read more

From Forest to Field: How Fire is Transforming the Amazon

Current estimates of Amazon deforestation may capture less than half of the area degraded by logging and accidental fire. If the current trends continue, the entire Amazon frontier could be transformed into grass or scrubland. Read more

Humans and Climate Destroy Reef Ecosystem

Using fossilized coral reefs, Nerilie Abram constructed a 7,000-year climate history of cool/warm cycles in the Indian Ocean. In the course of her research she discovered that wildfires in Indonesia during the 1997-98 El Nino indirectly killed the Mentawai Reef. Read more

Drought Lowers Lake Mead

In the space of just three years, water levels in Lake Mead have fallen more than sixty feet due to sustained drought. Landsat images show the extent of the change to the lake's shoreline. Read more

Just Add Water: a Modern Agricultural Revolution in the Fertile Crescent

Satellite observations in the Middle East's Fertile Crescent have documented a modern agricultural revolution. The dramatic changes in crop production in southern Turkey over the last decade are the result of new irrigation schemes that tap the historic Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Read more

How on Earth was this Image Made?

Remotely sensed Earth observations can include everything from sonar measurements used to map the topography of the ocean floor to satellite-based observations of city lights. Combining observations collected by a variety of instruments at different times and places allow scientists to create an otherwise impossible view of the Earth, showing underwater mountain ranges, cloud-free skies, and city lights that are brighter than daylight. Such visualizations are invaluable for interpreting complex data and communicating scientific concepts. Read more

The Human Footprint

In North America, the black-tailed prairie dog occupies as little as 5 percent of its former habitat. In Madagascar, more than 20 lemur species are threatened with extinction, and at least 15 species are already extinct. And on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, fewer than 50 mature mandrinette hibiscus plants remain in the wild. Read more

Urbanization’s Aftermath

Researchers have found that by reducing the amount of vegetation over large tracts of land, urbanization may affect the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Read more

Tais that Bind

Using GIS techniques and Chinese population and socioeconomic data, linguists trace the origin of Tai dialect in Southeast Asia. Read more

Power to the People

Thanks to a team at NASA's Langley Research Center (LaRC), engineers and amateur inventors worldwide now have free access to global-scale data on natural renewable energy resources. Private companies are using these data to design, build, and market new technologies for harnessing this energy. The best part is many of these new systems will be marketed at affordable prices in underdeveloped countries for those who need them most. Read more

Measure for Measure

Governments and policy makers turn to science to better understand the impacts of global sea level rise on coastal cities. Read more

Life on the Brink

Data demonstrate that populations cluster--in increasingly greater numbers--near active volcanoes. Scientists theorize that while attractions offset perceived risks, such willingness to chance eruptions increases the potential for disaster. Read more

Location, Location, Location

Scientists review geographic factors to learn why wealth concentrates predominantly in temperate zones. Read more

Precision Farming

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA, and NOAA are among key agencies contributing to precision farming revolution. The goal is to improve farmers' profits and harvest yields while reducing the negative impacts of farming on the environment that come from over-application of chemicals. Read more

New Tools for Diplomacy

Remote sensing technology, increasingly crucial to the understanding of Earth's climate and environmental processes, now permits the monitoring of global environmental conditions and the gathering of data that were historically unavailable. Read more

Reaping What We Sow: Mapping the Urbanization of Farmland Using Satellites and City Lights

Tracking urbanization, the conversion of rural landscape to urban habitat, has always been difficult due to the speed at which it progresses. Recently, NASA scientists came across a solution. Using satellite images of city lights at night, they constructed a map of urbanized areas and integrated this map with a soil map prepared by the United Nations. These maps indicate that urban centers may be destroying their best soils and putting future generations at risk. Read more

Bright Lights, Big City

For the past six years, researchers have been looking for ways to measure the effects of urbanization on biological productivity in countries around the world. To assist them with their research, they have created a method of mapping urbanization on a countrywide scale by using satellite images of the light cities generate at night. Read more

Adapting to Climate Change

Teams of scientists and resource planners assess their region’s most critical vulnerabilities in the United States National Assessment on the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. The report covers agricultural productivity, coastal areas, water resources, forests, and human health. Read more

Changing Our Weather One Smokestack at a Time

Daniel Rosenfeld and a team of scientists from the Hebrew University of Israel recently discovered that aerosol particles from factories and power plants increase the number of droplets in clouds they pollute. In doing so, the pollutants create brighter clouds that retain their water and do not produce rain. Read more

Flying High for Fine Wine

NASA and Robert Mondavi Winery researchers worked together to use airborne remote sensing technology to classify grapevines and produce better wine. Read more

Roger Revelle

Roger Revelle was one of the world's most articulate spokesmen for science and an early predictor of global warming. Read more

Human Impact on the Mojave

Researchers study long-term effects of disturbances to desert ecosystems. Read more

Svante Arrhenius

Svante Arrhenius was the first person to investigate the effect that doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would have on global climate. Read more

Why EOS Matters, 1999

Nearly a decade ago, ecologist Steve Running described how NASA’s Earth Observing System missions were going to help us answer this crucial question: Is the current human occupancy and activity of planet Earth sustainable? Read more

A Burning Question

Evidence suggests that atmospheric aerosols from biomass burning may offset global warming caused by greenhouse gases. Read more

Every Cloud Has a Filthy Lining

Sulfur dioxide in the exhaust from ship engines creates bright clouds. Read more