Snow cover on Mount Shasta in California has been shrinking over the last two decades, as shown here by images from the US government's Landsat probes. Photo: Landsat / EO / NASA

By Gabriel Popkin
24 April 2018

(Nature) – The US government is considering whether to charge for access to two widely used sources of remote-sensing imagery: the Landsat satellites operated by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and an aerial-survey programme run by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Officials at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the USGS, have asked a federal advisory committee to explore how putting a price on Landsat data might affect scientists and other users; the panel’s analysis is due later this year. And the USDA is contemplating a plan to institute fees for its data as early as 2019.

Some scientists who work with the data sets fear that changes in access could impair a wide range of research on the environment, conservation, agriculture, and public health. “It would be just a huge setback,” says Thomas Loveland, a remote-sensing scientist who recently retired from the USGS in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Landsat programme began with one satellite in 1972, and has launched seven since. Together, they have produced the world’s longest-running data set of satellite images and documented decades of global change. The current pair of satellites takes pictures at a resolution of 30 metres up to every 8 days.

Until 2008, researchers had to buy Landsat images — and they often designed studies to hold down data costs, Loveland says. “You would buy as few images as you possibly could to get an answer.” [more]

US government considers charging for popular Earth-observing data

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