Results for: Life

Autumn from Orbit

From the Great Lakes to the mountains of Sweden, satellites offer an incredible view of autumn in the northern hemisphere. 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

Notes from the Field: Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE)

The Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) is a multi-year field campaign in Alaska and western Canada, involving dozens of research teams. ABoVE researchers are investigating the vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems (such as permafrost, forests, and coastlines) and society to this changing environment. 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

Something Fishy in the Atlantic Night

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

Notes from the Field Blog: Siberia 2012 - Embenchime River Expedition

A dedicated team of scientists has returned to the remote boreal forests of northern Siberia to study how the boreal ecosystem moderates Earth's climate by storing carbon and the implications of a warming climate on those forests. 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

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

The Water Cycle

Landscape sculptor. Climate driver. Life supporter. Water is the most important molecule on our planet. Read more

What are Phytoplankton?

Microscopic plant-like organisms called phytoplankton are the base of the marine food web, and they play a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the air. Read more

World of Change: Devastation and Recovery at Mt. St. Helens

The devastation of the May 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens and the gradual recovery of the surrounding landscape is documented in this series of satellite images from 1979—2015. Read more

World of Change: Drought Cycles in Australia

Drought has taken a severe toll on croplands in Southeast Australia during many years this decade. 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

Notes from the Field Blog: North Woods, Maine 2009

NASA's Dr. Jon Ranson is on an expedition in the forests of central Maine to validate recent radar and lidar measurements which will help create more accurate and sensitive sensors to better understand the vegetation of the Earth and to balance the carbon budget. 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: Global Biosphere

Earth would not be the planet that it is without its biosphere, the sum of its life. This series of images illustrates the variations in the average productivity of the global biosphere from 1999 to 2008. Read more

Earth Perspectives

In 2008, as NASA celebrated its 50th anniversary, the Earth Observatory asked a number of Earth scientists what we have learned about our home planet by going into space. Read more

Devastating Drought Settles on the High Plains

A drought to rival the Dust Bowl settled over the southern Great Plains in summer 2008. Read more

Siberia Blog 2008

Scientists on a remote river in Siberia send field reports of their expedition to study the impacts of fire and climate change on northern forests and tundra. Read more

Amazon Fires on the Rise

In 2006, fires and smoke in the Amazon declined significantly for the first time in nearly a decade. Is Amazon burning under control? Read more

Ancient Forest to Modern City

To understand how local weather shifted when the towering forests of the eastern United States gave way to fields and cities, scientists must reconstruct the region's historical landscapes. Read more

Buzzing about Climate Change

A Maryland beekeeper's annual records of honey production reveal that flowering trees are blooming nearly a month earlier than they did a few decades ago. Listen to the podcast by EarthSky. Read more

Greenland’s Ice Island Alarm

Global warming is shrinking the Greenland Ice Sheet by at least 150 billion metric tons a year. Read more

The Amazon’s Seasonal Secret

Satellite data detect previously unknown seasonal cycles in the leaf area of the Amazon Rainforest. Increasing leaf area during the sunny dry season may actually trigger the seasonal rains. Read more

Tropical Deforestation

Tropical forests are home to half the Earth's species, and their trees are an immense standing reservoir of carbon. Deforestation will have increasingly serious consequences for biodiversity, humans, and climate. Read more

Remote River Reconnaissance

Elevation data collected from the space shuttle help map Earth's rivers in remote regions. Read more

Beating the Heat in the World’s Big Cities

Green roofs can mitigate urban heat islands and heat waves. Read more


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

Defying Dry: Amazon Greener in Dry Season than Wet

Satellites reveal that the Amazon rainforest is greener during the dry season than during the wet season. Read more

Winds Connect Snow to Sea

Explosive blooms of plant life in the Arabian Sea between 1997 and 2003 may be the result of a significant dip in snow cover thousands of miles away in Europe and Asia. Read more

Aiding Afghanistan

NASA satellite data help optimize agricultural output in Afghanistan. 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

Drought and Deluge Change Chesapeake Bay Biology

In September 2008, after years of population declines, NOAA declared the Chesapeake Bay’s crab fishery a federal disaster (press release). This article from 2005 describes how NASA scientists used satellite observations to study how heavy rain and drought affect the amount of pollution that enters the bay. 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

Stealing Rain from the Rainforest

In a rainforest, visible effects of drought can be subtle. An experiment that mimicked the impact of a severe El Nino in the Amazon revealed surprising signs of stress that could be seen from space. 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

Aura: A Mission Dedicated to the Health of Earth’s Atmosphere

On July 15, 2004 at 3:02 a.m., NASA launched the Aura satellite, the third flagship in a series of Earth-observing satellites designed to view Earth as a whole system, observe the net results of complex interactions within the climate system, and understand how the planet is changing in response to natural and human influences. Read more

New Tools for Conservation

NASA's advances in remote sensing and other technologies give researchers and conservationists new unprecedented information for protecting wild areas. Read more

Mayan Mysteries

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

Uncovering Chameleons

Using satellite data and museum specimen records, scientists predicted the location of 7 new chameleon species in Madagascar. 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

Life in Icy Waters

When you think of polynyas as a concentrated food source for larger organisms, then it becomes clear how important they are. Read more

Breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf

In the summer of 2002, graduate student Derek Mueller made an unwelcome discovery: the biggest ice shelf in the Arctic was breaking apart Read more

Watching the World Go By

Space Station Science Officer Ed Lu describes what it is like to look at the Earth over the course of an orbit. His descriptions are accompanied by digital photographs of Earth he has taken and transmitted to the ground during his mission. 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

Watching our Ozone Weather

Until about 30 years ago, atmospheric scientists believed that all of the ozone in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) intruded from the upper atmosphere (stratosphere), where it formed by the action of sunlight on oxygen molecules. Read more

The Incredible Glowing Algae

The latest development in oceanographic remote sensing enables researchers to detect the glow, or phytoplankton fluorescence, from chlorophyll. Read more

Global Garden Gets Greener

Between 1982-1999, the climate grew warmer, wetter, and sunnier in many parts of the global greenhouse. For the most part, these changes were favorable for Earth's vegetation. Satellite observations of vegetation combined with nearly 20 years of climate data reveal that productivity of Earth's land-based vegetation increased by 6 percent during the time period. The greatest increase occurred in the tropics, where decreasing cloudiness made more sunlight available. Compared to the increase in human population, however, the small increase in productivity has not changed the Earth's habitability in any significant way. Read more

Escape from the Amazon

In this era of heightened concern about the relationship between the build up of atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change, scientists are working to itemize all the ways carbon moves into and out of forest ecosystems. Perhaps nowhere on Earth do questions about the role of forests in the carbon cycle need answers more than in the Amazon Rainforest. Using satellite mapping and ground-based observations, scientists have discovered that carbon dioxide gas escaping from wetlands and flooded areas is a significant source of carbon emissions in the Amazon. Read more

From Space to the Outback

The 2002-03 fire season in Australia echoes the devastating 2001-02 season that climaxed in the bush on the outskirts of Sydney and drew international attention once again to the city that had hosted the 2000 Summer Olympics. In the aftermath of that season, Australian scientists and government agencies developed a new fire monitoring system that uses observations from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors on the Terra and Aqua satellites to identify fires in remote locations in Australia. The system provides a big-picture perspective of fires across the country and helps fire emergency agencies allocate resources to the areas where they are needed most. Read more

Flame & Flood

In the desert, fires can move fast; constant winds funnel through shallow dry creek beds to keep parched vegetation burning. A hot fire can make soil "hydrophobic," meaning that water runs off instead of soaking into the ground. 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

Chemistry in the Sunlight

Ozone has proven to be among the most difficult air pollutants to control. To control ozone requires understanding its complex chemistry and how the chemical travels from one locality to another. Chemistry in the Sunlight explains basic aspects of ozone formation and provides a sample set of chemical reactions involved in ozone production. Read more

ICESat Factsheet

The ICESat mission will provide multi-year elevation data needed to determine ice sheet mass balance as well as cloud property information, especially for stratospheric clouds common over polar areas. It will also provide topography and vegetation data around the globe, in addition to the polar-specific coverage over the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Read more

Introduction to the LBA

The large-scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia is an international research effort led by Brazil to investigate how the Amazon functions as a regional and global entity in atmospheric and biogeochemical cycles. Read more

Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation

The aftermath of a wildfire can be as dangerous as the blaze itself. The charred landscape is prone to flooding and erosion, and natural resource experts usually have only one week to assess the damage and propose steps to mitigate disaster. Satellite mapping of burned areas can save crews time and money by helping guide field crews to the most crucial areas. USDA Forest Service and University of Maryland scientists are partnering up in a project to collect ground-based data to check the accuracy of their satellite-based Burn Severity maps. Read more


A little bit of overcrowding can transform a population of solitary desert locusts into a marauding mob with a voracious appetite. By tracking rainfall-induced changes in vegetation in the desert locust's habitat, scientists can help predict when conditions are becoming ripe for the formation of a plague. Read more

Rain Helps Carbon Sink

Forests and other vegetation in the U.S. consume about a quarter of the carbon dioxide gas the country produces each year. Over the past few decades the size of this “carbon sink” has been growing. NASA researchers now believe increased rain and snowfall are encouraging plant growth, which in turn are sequestering carbon dioxide. Read more

The Migrating Boreal Forest

Using plant fossils and ice cores, scientists have put together a history of the how the boreal forest has migrated since the last ice age. That history may help scientists trying to predict how the boreal forest of today might fare in a world much warmer than the one in which we now live. Read more

Fish Kill in the Gulf of Oman

When fish began dying in droves off the coast of Oman, local media reported it was due to contaminated ballast water from a U.S. tanker while authorities feared that a toxic algal bloom was to blame. Neither was true. Using data from NASA's Terra and SeaWinds missions, a team of scientists demonstrated the fish kill was due to a series of natural environmental changes. Read more

Showdown in the Rio Grande

ASTER satellite images have been used to find and track infestations of water hyacinths in the Rio Grande in Texas, as well as to monitor the success of plant eradication techniques. 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

Hunting Dangerous Algae from Space

Although red tides have been reported in Florida since 1530, scientists are still struggling to understand their cause, to predict their occurrence, and to find a way to lessen their impact. Now, a group of scientists in Florida is using remote sensing data and offshore monitoring to find and track harmful algal blooms as they form and spread. Read more


Aqua carries six state-of-the-art instruments to observe the Earth's oceans, atmosphere, land, ice and snow covers, and vegetation, providing high measurement accuracy, spatial detail, and temporal frequency. This comprehensive approach enables scientists to study interactions among the many elements of the Earth system. Read more

NOAA-M Continues Polar-Orbiting Satellite Series

Since the 1960s, NASA has developed polar-orbiting operational environmental satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA-M, the latest NOAA spacecraft, was launched on June 24, 2002. Read more

Fiery Temperament

Sufficient human pressure can transform tropical rainforest into savanna, and savanna into desert. Desertification now threatens more than a billion people worldwide, although its impacts are most severe in Africa. Read more

Seeing Leaves in a New Light

An increase in plant growth can cool surface temperatures, give rise to more rain and cloud cover and lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For many years biologists and Earth scientists have known of these interactions, but they have never been able to precisely measure and assess to what degree plants influence climate. Using a measurement known as Leaf Area Index, scientists have now found a way to quantify plant growth on a global scale with satellite imagery. Read more

The Ozone We Breathe

Ozone in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) is toxic to human beings and many species of plants, causing harm without visible symptoms. The Ozone We Breathe focuses chiefly on the ozone's effects on human respiratory health and and the productivity of agricultural crops. Read more

Domes of Destruction

Imagery from the ASTER satellite instrument helps scientists monitor volcanic domes. Read more

Hantavirus Risk Maps

Satellite and ground truth data help scientists predict the risk of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Read more

Well Grounded

A team effort allows scientists to validate and make MODIS data accessible to a wide audience. 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

Ultraviolet Radiation: How It Affects Life on Earth

Stratospheric ozone depletion due to human activities has resulted in an increase of ultraviolet radiation on the Earth's surface. The article describes some effects on human health, aquatic ecosystems, agricultural plants and other living things, and explains how much ultraviolet radiation we are currently getting and how we measure it. 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

Watching Plants Dance to the Rhythms of the Ocean

NASA scientists developed a new data set that enables them to observe the teleconnections between sea surface temperature anomalies and patterns of plant growth on a global scale. Read more

When the Dust Settles

African dust can both benefit and harm Caribbean coral reefs. Read more

Amazing Atolls of the Maldives

Though scientists have been studying atolls at least since the mid-1800s, many mysteries remain about exactly how they form and what factors determine their shape. Using satellite imagery collected by Landsat 7, scientists are attempting to discern if monsoons played a role in shaping the Maldives. Read more

Mapping the Decline of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs represent some of the densest and most varied ecosystems on Earth. Over the past 50 years the health of these reefs have been declining. Using high-resolution satellite imagery, scientists are locating the reefs that are in the most trouble. Read more

Where Frogs Live

Researchers use remote sensing to monitor amphibian health. 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

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

Mission: Biomes

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a different part of the world? What would the weather be like? What kinds of animals would you see? Which plants live there? By investigating these questions, you are learning about biomes. Read more

Dry Times in North America

Recurring droughts are common in the American West, and a 2008 report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program cautions that they may become more common (press release). This article from 2000 describes how scientists use data from satellites and rain gauges along with tree-rings and lakebed sediments to understand and predict drought in North America. Read more

Measuring Vegetation (NDVI & EVI)

In an effort to monitor major fluctuations in vegetation and understand how they affect the environment scientist use satellite remote sensors to measure and map the density of green vegetation over the Earth. By carefully measuring the wavelengths and intensity of visible and near-infrared light reflected by the land surface back up into space, scientists use an algorithm called a “Vegetation Index” to quantify the concentrations of green leaf vegetation around the globe. Read more

Drought: The Creeping Disaster

Though it is a gradual disaster, drought can have devastating effects on agriculture and water supplies, but monitoring and forecasts can allow people to take early actions that prevent harsh impacts later. Read more

The Dirt on Carbon

Researchers examine the implications of melting permafrost in the northern forests. Read more

Polynyas, CO2, and Diatoms in the Southern Ocean

Climate models predict a dramatic shift in phytoplankton communities that live in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. Read more

Perspective on Plants

Satellite observations help landowners and land managers monitor the health of their land by providing a larger perspective. Read more

Tracking Eddies that Feed the Sea

Scientists are using sea surface height data collected by satellites to monitor eddies (vortices of water) in the Gulf of Alaska. These eddies are important because they carry nutrients from coastal waters into the open ocean, thereby nourishing the phytoplankton (microscopic plants) that form the base of the ocean food chain. 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

Illuminating Photosynthesis in the Arabian Sea

Researchers define an ocean’s seasonal cycle. Read more

Human Impact on the Mojave

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

Finding Fossils from Space

Satellite imagery helps fossil hunters find dinosaurs in the Gobi Desert. Read more

Grasslands Initiative

Researchers establish a baseline for understanding net primary productivity: the total amount of carbon plants take out of the atmosphere and use for growth. Read more

Hurricane Floyd: Fearing the Worst

In the wake of Hurricane Floyd, polluted runoff threatened North Carolina’s rivers and beaches. Read more

Upper Crust

Krill fight for survival as sea ice melts. Read more

Mapping Malaria

For the past fifteen years Don Roberts and a group of scientists at the Uniformed Services University and NASA have been working on a system to pinpoint houses and areas at high risk for the malaria using medical databases of malaria, airplane photographs, and even remote sensing satellites. 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

Introduction to BOREAS

BOREAS’ primary goals were to determine how the boreal forest interacts with the atmosphere (via the transfer of gases and energy), how much carbon is stored in the forest ecosystem, how climate change will affect the forest, and how changes in the forest affects weather and climate. Read more

Fish in the Trees

An international collaboration may lead to accurate assessments of water storage on Amazonian floodplains during rainy seasons. Read more

Modeling Earth’s Land Biosphere

A NASA-affiliated research team constructed a computer model of the Earth’s terrestrial biosphere that will teach us a great deal about the dynamic interactions between land plants and the lower atmosphere. Read more

The Color of El Nino

Scientists found a way to detect the end of El Niño and the beginning of La Niña by studying the growth of phytoplankton (tiny marine plants). Read more

Land Cover Classification

For years scientists across the world have been mapping changes in the landscape (forest to field, grassland to desert, ice to rock) to prevent future disasters, monitor natural resources, and collect information on the environment. While land cover can be observed on the ground or by airplane, the most efficient way to map it is from space. Read more

Spotting the Spotted Owl

With the help of satellite images researchers plan to locate areas where spotted owls are likely to live. The researchers use this information, along with ground surveys, to map out the owl’s habitat and create a method for assessing the health of the owl population in the Pacific Northwest. Read more

Mystery of the Missing Carbon

Scientists estimate that between 1 and 2 billion metric tons of carbon per year are "missing" from the global carbon budget. In a concerted effort to solve the mystery of the missing carbon, NASA led the interdisciplinary Boreal Ecosystem-Atmosphere Study (BOREAS) from 1994-97. Read more

What is a Coccolithophore? Fact Sheet

Coccolithophores are one-celled marine plants that surround themselves with a microscopic plating made of limestone (calcite). Read more

Changing Currents in the Bering Sea

During the summers of 1997 and 1998, a type of one-celled microscopic plant changed the color of the Bering Sea from its natural deep blue to a shimmering aquamarine. These plants, called coccolithophores, present a unique problem for researchers because a massive bloom of the organisms has never before been observed in the Bering Sea. Read more

Terra Spacecraft Fact Sheet

On December 18, 1999, NASA launched a new flagship, the Terra satellite, to begin collecting a new 18-year global data set on which to base future scientific investigations about our complex home planet. Read more