Accessing Historical and Current Remotely Sensed Data

Managing data for internal and public use

It was the military and large corporations such as oil and mineral exploration companies that first saw the value in imagery. This launched a new industry bent on acquiring the most accurate, highest resolution imagery with newer satellites, aerial sensors, photogrammetric equipment and specialized software, to help interpret the images.

Availability of imagery is no longer the problem—accessibility is. The flood of imagery data is overwhelming. In response, users have shifted their work habits to include tools that help them get their jobs done easier and faster. Because of the size of imagery, most users are demanding access to the data over the web or from a cloud in near real-time, but they don’t want to be forced to download it. They are using technology, like image services, that let them work with data from their desktop, browsers and smartphones.

Managing the data becomes another concern. When the volumes of data grow into the terabyte range, it becomes tricky to manage and provide fast access. Storage and network bandwidth become an issue. Experts in this field are looking towards cloud solutions to help them manage large volumes of imagery, and technologies that enable them to disseminate large quantities of data to anyone who needs it in a timely manner.

Imagery is no longer a black box mystery; it is now used by everyone as a tool to help them understand the world around them. As we go forward, citizens and non-remote sensing experts are expecting they will be able to understand what their government, environmental scientists and news reporters are talking to them about because they will demand to see the proof, using imagery.

The amount of historical and current remotely sensed data is growing exponentially, and the only way to get ahead of the curve is to have the right tools that simplify everyday tasks while maximizing access.

How are you improving access to historical and new imagery in your organization?

Lawrie Jordan

About Lawrie Jordan

Lawrie Jordan is the director of imagery for Esri with over 30 years of experience as a leader in the field of image processing and remote sensing. He has served as an advisor to numerous government organizations on current and future trends involving imagery and satellite programs.
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  1. I think this serving up the data is a small challenge. The much larger challenge is extracting useful information from it. People sometimes want the imagery (pretty background, etc.) but more often they want to know something that imagery can tell them. Most solution for extracting information from imagery are limiting in that they are 32-bit, single-threaded, rely solely on spectral information and are far from cloud ready.

  2. Dr. Greg Koeln says:

    As an undergraduate in the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University in the early 1970’s, I was eagerly awaiting the launch of ERTS-1 (now Landsat-1) to map and monitor wildlife habitat. In the mid-1970’s, while at Virginia Tech, I had my first opportunities to process Landsat data. I became a Landsat evangelist and have been processing and promoting Landsat data ever since. I believe that the availability of Landsat data provides a manageable means for organizations to access both historic and current imagery for many different uses.

    One of the fundamental promises of the Landsat program is to provide a stable and efficient platform to monitor changes on the earth’s surface. A major boost to help fulfill this promise occurred in 1998 when NASA contracted with MDA Information Systems, Inc. (then EarthSat) to ortho-rectify Landsat Thematic Mapper and Multispectral Scanner imagery covering the majority of the earth’s land mass ( The GeoCover Ortho program – now known as the Global Land Survey (GLS) – provides access to 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s, and more recent Landsat data (

    Natural color versions of these data formed the first global basemap for Google Earth and continue to provide the framework for Google, Bing, Esri, and virtually all other medium-resolution online mapping engines. These same circa year 2000 ortho-rectified Landsat scenes are also providing the horizontal control for the USGS’s EDC-based program that distributes current and future free Landsat image data.

    With the GLS program, Landsat data became readily available for monitoring changes in the global landscape. TerraLook ( provided one of the earliest tools to visually examine epochs of Landsat data for landcover changes. Recently, Esri has announced that the GLS data are accessible through ArcGIS online ( In addition, Esri has introduced a simple online change detection viewer, “ChangeMatters Viewer” ( to help fulfill the promise of Landsat to monitor the world.

    Other tools, such as MDA’s Correlated Land Change (, are providing online access to sophisticated change analyses of over 25 years of landcover change monitored by Landsat.

    With GLS, free online access to both current and historic Landsat data, and online change capabilities, the promise of Landsat for monitoring global landcover is now achievable.

  3. furqan iqbal says:

    Imagery storage is challenging task. On the other side extraction of useful information is also important but it lies on the end user. People use images for shiny backgrounds but it is only for those who do not know about its usage but have interest to do so.
    We have huge storage which is costly and extensive for application usage.

  4. Lawrie Jordan says:

    Jarlath, I do agree that extracting useful information can indeed be a large challenge. You point out that 32 bit and/or singled threaded solutions for extraction are certainly one reason for this, but I am encouraged that technological capabilities continue to evolve and improve every year. For example, there are many solutions available today that use texture and object-oriented methods of extraction. Some that come to mind include Envi, eCognition, and Feature Analyst. If you haven’t tried them, they may provide improved results for your features of interest. I’m happy to say that not only is ArcGIS in the cloud today, but also that we recently put the Landsat GLS data set (34,000 full multi-band scenes) on the cloud, with a cool new app called “Change Matters” for quick and easy visualization of multi-temporal change globally. If you get a chance, please check this out at

  5. First of all – this is a very good initiative to have the thought leaders, solution architects, vendors and “demanders” of all the above share their ideas. THANKS
    I’d like to comment on the cost aspect that Furcan raises above:
    Over the last year, many customers I talked to expressed their wish to get the huge amount of imagery they store(d) in their databases out – back into the file system … mainly for cost reasons. Costly database storage space, prolonged (=costly) backup … Image Services from MosaicDatasets are a great way to get this done. So besides Lawries arguments for accessability, speed and ease-of-use I would like to add this argument here

  6. The use of geospatial information has exploded in the recent years, and the vision expressed by Jack Dangermond several years back “GIS for Everyone” has come true. Consumer mapping is the new reality, and imagery has been a key driver.

    As a developer of software tools and solutions that enhance the ArcGIS platform, PCI Geomatics is working closely with Esri to make imagery more accessible to non remote sensing experts. Imagery, as the new basemap, provides that instant connection to geography. Anyone looking at imagery, especially high resolution, can make an immediate connection to the features they can see – their house, their car, their school, their neighbourhoods, community centre, etc.

    Current operational satellite missions are many, and vary from coarse resolution (with large spatial coverage) to medium and high resolution (with decreasing spatial coverage). Spectral bands and sensor types are also many, ranging from multi-spectral sensors, hyperspectral sensors, and also Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors. The latest trends are to operate satellite missions as constellations, as we have seen with RapidEye, and TerraSAR for example.

    Consumer mapping applications have grown exponentially, but I cannot help to think that we are only scratching the surface. Stored away in the archives are incredible volumes of multi resolution, multi spectral, multi sensor, and multi temporal information from these earth observation sensors. What applications can be developed using this rich source of information? Finding out requires that imagery be accessible, and that tools exist that make discovering, accessing, analyzing, and disseminating/sharing information derived from imagery as easy as it has been for hundreds of millions of people to download a geospatial application like Google Earth, or adopt the use of map based local search sites such as Google Maps, Bing, Yahoo Maps, or MapQuest.

    Esri has made incredible advances in building a platform that enables sharing of geospatial information, deploying the infrastructure for hosting and sharing geospatial information, available at Together with Esri, PCI Geomatics is working to develop easy to use tools and offer solutions that will allow users to tap into those rich sources of historical data mentioned above.
    An oft overlooked, but critical step in extracting valuable information from these varied sources of imagery is pre-processing. PCI supports the Esri platform by offering automated means of co-registering raster layers to each other in a completely automated manner – vector layers can also be used as a reference – by bringing data into pixel perfect aligment using a well known interface (ArcGIS), non-remote sensing experts are empowered to discover applications of imagery that have not yet been created. Our extension, GeoImaging Tools for ArcGIS ( will help make this possible. We are also working to deploy our advanced, automated image processing technology to the cloud, making imagery accessibility and more importantly accurate analysis available on in a pervasive manner.

    And lastly, we are working to make SAR Analysis tools available for ArcGIS users, recognizing the increasing use and interest in Radar based Earth Observation information.

  7. kass green says:

    Esri’s image serves change the way we all should be thinking about imagery – it is a whole new paradigm. No more huge duplicative data sets. No more hours of processing just to be able to view a derivative of the imagery – just easy access and fast processing.
    We are most excited about the ability to serve both Landsat and NAIP imagery.
    Landsat’s comprehensive and consistent archive served in esri’s Landsat services ( allows users worldwide to view Landsat imagery anywhere in the world. That’s revolutionary! Finally fast and free access to the richness of Landsat – multiple bands – multiple years, all without the overhead of constant image processing. Check out esri’s ChangeMatters web site ( to experience the full power of both esri server image extension, but also to discover ways you can incorporate esri’s Landsat services into your project – for free!
    The National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) provides free, public domain current 1 meter, digital airborne multispectral (R,G,B,IR) imagery of the United States ( ). Next to Landsat, NAIP is one of the most valuable assets the Federal Government provides to its citizens. We use NAIP imagery to map a variety of landscapes – from benthic habitats off the coast of Texas (flown by Fugro Earthdata) to the vegetation of Grand Canyon National Park. Check out to see our field work planning tool for the Grand Canyon. Developed in ArcGIS Viewer for Flex, the web site serves multiple layers of data plus the NAIP imagery (flown by PhotoScience) for the park in both natural and color infrared served using esri’s server image extension. It’s a showcase of providing fast access to high resolution imagery on the fly. We are currently building similar viewers for the national parks of Hawaii, Glen Canyon, and Yellowstone. We love being able to serve imagery quickly and efficiently. Esri’s server image extension is a great tool.