Landsat Applications

ES 351, ES 771, ES 775
James S. Aber


Landsat images and data have been used for diverse applications for all manner of studies involving the Earth's surficial environments. Although originally designed for vegetation and geologic investigations, Landsat has proven surprisingly versatile for many different uses over land, aquatic, glacial, and marine settings (Williams and Carter 1976).

During its early years, Landsat was a means to acquire synoptic, multispectral "snapshots" that were interpreted visually. The potential for statistical analysis of multispectral data gradually has gained considerable importance. Now with 25 years of Landsat, we have the most comprehensive set of data ever available for scientific documentation of regional and global environmental changes, especially in regard to land-cover conditions and land-use practices. Global change has become among the most important scientific and social issues of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

See Historical Landsat data comparisons (in GSA lab).

Applications in geomorphology

Satellite remote sensing of the Earth has some important advantages for collecting geomorphic observations compared to conventional field surveys. The most important advantage is the synoptic view provided by Landsat images. Such images of large regions, taken under uniform solar illumination, are superior in most cases to photomosaics (Short and Blair 1986). Whole geomorphic assemblages of complex and varied terrain are protrayed on a grand scale and may be studied from a regional perspective (Watson 1991).

A typical Landsat image displays many aspects of the landscape, such as vegetation, water bodies, soils, human land use, and morphology. This allows the user to comprehend various geomorphic processes and landforms present in the same region. Landsat imagery provides the first possibility to objectively map major geomorphic units over broad areas of the Earth's surface.

Pain (1985) concluded that Landsat MSS images could provide considerably more details about landforms at a scale of 1:100,000 than conventional topographic maps do at the same scale. Elevation information is, in fact, the only significance geomorphic data not readily apparent on most Landsat images. This shortcoming can be overcome, however, by merging Landsat images with digital elevation models.

Landsat imagery is most appropriate for regional landscape analysis at scales ranging from 1:100,000 to 1:1,000,000. However, the resolution and pixel sizes of both MSS and TM images are not appropriate for large-scale study of small geomorphic features. This scale limitation for the use of Landsat imagery is an important aspect to keep in mind, especially for those who are more accustomed to working with large-scale topographic maps or air-photo interpretation. Landsat images are ideal sources of information for medium-scale geomorphic mapping at 1:100,000 or smaller scales (Aber et al. 1993).

Return to Landsat remote sensing.

Notice: ES 351, 771 and 775 are presented for the use and benefit of students enrolled at Emporia State University. Any other use of text, imagery or curriculum materials is prohibited without permission of the instructor. All Landsat webpage material © J.S. Aber (2007).