September 23, 2009

New satellite-based mapping method created

The U.S. Geological Survey says data from Landsat satellites played a central role in the creation of a new, award-winning type of water use mapping.

Using Landsat imagery supplied by the USGS in combination with ground-based water data, the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the University of Idaho developed a novel method to create water-use maps that are accurate to the scale of individual fields, USGS officials said.

The USGS Landsat archive, dating back to1972, has proven to be a versatile source of consistent data about land surface conditions, said Bryant Cramer, USGS associate director for geography. This advance by the Idaho water monitoring team is both brilliant and practical. Looking forward, it's indicative of what researchers in many countries can accomplish with the data.

As agricultural irrigation needs and swelling city populations amplify demand for scarce water supplies, water management strategy has been forced to shift from increasing water supply to more effectively managing water use at sustainable levels, the USGS said, noting the Landsat-based method can be as much as 80 percent more accurate than traditional measurement methods.

The USGS policy of releasing the full Landsat archive over the Internet at no cost opens the door to a much larger pool of researchers worldwide, Cramer said. More researchers will lead to even more data applications that tackle major environmental issues.