Landsat: “My American Landscape” Contest

Experiments GeekMom Travel
Yellowstone National Park (August, 1988; October, 1988; September, 1993; August, 2007) Image: NASA

The United States’ Landsat Earth observing program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. This program has allowed scientists from all over the world to observe landscape changes on a massive scale through detailed photography of the Earth’s surface. By 1972, when Landsat launched, satellite imagery had already proven an extremely valuable resource, but the use of this imagery to understand land features and their change still needed to be proven. As you can imagine, the world has changed a lot in the last 40 years; natural disasters, population increases, crop rotation and gradual climate change have all had a hand in reshaping the landscape. Landsat has been there recording every change in breath-taking detail, changing the way we view the world around us at a human scale rather then at an individual’s scale.

To celebrate this historic anniversary, NASA is offering the chance for six lucky members of the American public to receive a chronicle of Landsat images taken of a certain area. In other words, NASA is giving you the chance to nominate your local area as a place worth investigating, to see how the landscape has changed in 40 years. All you have to do is send NASA an e-mail and tell them about your local area and the possible landscape changes that you think would be worth viewing from space. Entries are due by June 6th, and the winners will be announced at a press conference on July 23, 2012, exactly 40 years after Landsat’s original launch.

As an example of the changes that Landsat can track, the picture above show you how the Yellowstone National Park landscape has changed since 1988 wildfires. In June of 1988, lightning strikes ignited a massive forest fire that burned throughout the park until the snow began to fall for the season in September. When the final flames were extinguished in November, 36% of the park had burned. Natural recovery of the land started almost immediately, when the nutrients in the ash allowed vegetation to flourish once again. By the summer of 1987, the burned areas were covered by a rich green blanket of grass and wildflowers. The pictures above show the active fires with billowing smoke and the bright red scars left on the landscape in the fire’s wake. As recovery continues over the next 5 years, the bright red scars fade with the new vegetation growth. The physical signs of the massive wildfire are nearly completely gone after 20 years, and new wildfire scars are visible.

In the past 40 years, you are bound to have noticed changes in the land around you. Would you like to see what those changes look like from space? Maybe you live in New Orleans, Louisiana and while you have seen the effects of hurricane Katrina on your town you are interested in how other hurricanes over the last 40 years have affected population growth and the shape of the Mississippi river banks. Maybe you live in Joplin, Missouri and you are interested in seeing how the landscape has been affected by tornadoes of the past, not just of the last year. Maybe you are a farmer in Northwestern Minnesota and you are interested in seeing how the farm land has changed and developed though out the last 40 years. There are limitless possibilities! What do you think is interesting in your local area? Let NASA know!

If you would like to learn more about Landsat and the changes that it has chronicled during its 40-year lifetime, check out these links:

Landsat: Looking at Earth’s Surface – a video trailer produced by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Landsat Image Gallery

How Landsat Helps – a website dedicated to the everyday uses of Landsat data.

How to Enter

All you have to do to enter the NASA-USGS “My American Landscape” contest is send an e-mail containing your answers to the questions below to The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, June 6.

  1. What are the types of landscape changes that interest you in your part of your state? Select one or more from the list below:
    • Farms and fields
    • Forests
    • Cities and suburbs
    • Lakes, rivers, and coasts
    • Natural disasters
    • Wildlife habitat
  2. Describe in at least 100 words the local changes you are interested in where you live and what you hope to learn about them from a Landsat “space chronicle.”
  3. Your name
  4. The county and state where you live
  5. Your e-mail address

Be sure to provide all of the information outlined above in the body of your e-mail; no attachments, please. Incomplete entries will not be eligible for the contest. E-mail addresses will only be used to contact contest winners.

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekMom and GeekDad on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!