Some features of this site are not compatible with your browser. Install Opera Mini to better experience this site.

Elegant Figures

A Quick Guide to Earth Explorer for Landsat 8

May 31st, 2013 by Robert Simmon

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission is now Landsat 8, and that means images are now public (woohoo!). NASA handed control of the satellite to the USGS yesterday (May 30, 2013), and calibrated imagery is available through the Earth Explorer. Unfortunately, the Earth Explorer interface is a bit of a pain, so I’ve put together a guide to make it easier.

First, go to the Earth Explorer site:

You can search, but not order data, without logging in—so register if you don’t have an account (don’t worry, it’s instant and free), or log in if you do.

First step, register.

The simplest way to select a location is to simply pick a single point on the map. You can define a box or even a polygon, but that makes it more likely you’ll get images with only partial coverage. Navigate to the location you’re interested in, and click to enter the coordinates. You can choose a data range, but right now there are only 3 or 4 scenes for a given spot, so skip it and just click “Data Sets”.

Pick a spot, then click "Data Sets"

On the data sets page, you can search everything from Aerial Imagery to Vegetation Monitoring. Click the “+” symbol next to Landsat Archive, then the first check box that appears: “L8 OLI/TIRS” (which stands for Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager/Thermal Infrared Sensor (creative, no?)). Click “Results” to start a search.

Select Landsat 8, then Results.

After a short wait, you’ll get a list of available images. The thumbnails aren’t big enough to show much, so click on one to see a slightly larger image. Close that window, and click the download icon: a green arrow pointing down towards a hard drive …


… which doesn’t actually download the data, just provides a list of download options. “LandsatLook” are full-resolution JPEGs, and are a quick way to check image quality (I’d prefer full-resolution browse images without a separate download, but I digress). The Level 1 Product is terrain-corrected, geolocated, calibrated data—a bundle of 16 bit, single-channel GeoTIFFs. Select the “Level 1 Product” radio button, then click “Select Download Option”.


Done! Oh, wait. Not done. You need to click one more button: “Download”.


Now you’re done. The data should arrive in your browser’s designated download folder.

Drop a note in the comments section if I’ve skipped a step, or if you have any other questions. Next week I’ll explain what to do with the data once you’ve got it.

21 Responses to “A Quick Guide to Earth Explorer for Landsat 8”

  1. Kevin Ward says:

    The Earth Explorer system only permits downloading of the entire scene. There is no capability for subsetting.