A lot of what we refer to on online maps as “satellite imagery” actually isn’t: the high-resolution stuff is usually taken from airplanes. This can be a point of confusion for some—and, according to this Twitter thread from Google Maps co-creator Bret Taylor, also a point of contention for the Google Maps team before it launched. Some engineers felt that calling the layer “Satellite” was factually incorrect—because of that aerial imagery—and therefore shouldn’t be used; others argued for “Satellite” based on label size and usability studies. It nearly got called “Bird Mode” as a compromise. [Boing Boing]
So you would like to use a satellite image in your article and you would like to explain it to your viewers? Here is a short guide covering some of the most frequently asked questions and giving some general explanations on satellite images. It by no means covers all aspects, as there are far too many types of satellite images, but should give you a good start to find out more on your own and maybe motivate you to create your own images, which has become quite easy and quick even with no prior knowledge of it.
Complete with examples of imagery, examples of how to use it properly, and links to resources.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s 2018 California Fire Tracker is an interactive map of ongoing and contained wildfires—notably, at this moment, the Camp and Woolsey fires. It includes fire perimeter and air quality data. (Note: it’s glitchy on desktop Safari.)
Smoke from the British Columbia wildfires (previously) has blanketed the Canadian prairie provinces and can be seen from space, CBC News reports. The above image was taken by the Suomi NPP satellite on 15 August.
Landsat observations have charted the erosion of the banks of the ever-changing Padma River, a major distributary of the Ganges in Bangladesh. This is vividly shown in this animation produced by NASA Earth Observatory, which “shows 14 false-color images of the Padma river between 1988 and 2018 taken by the Landsat 5 and 8 satellites. All of the images include a combination of shortwave infrared, near infrared, and visible light to highlight differences between land and water.” More on the erosion of the Padma River here.
Daily Overview is a website that curates spectacular aerial and satellite imagery. Founded by Benjamin Grant, and inspired by the Overview Effect—”the sensation astronauts have when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole,” it’s available in virtually every social media format out there; a book, Overview, came out in October 2016. [WMS]
There are many circumstances where the amount of data vastly exceeds the ability to process and analyze it—and computers can only do so much. Enter crowdsourcing. Steve Coast points to Digital Globe’s Tomnod project, which basically crowdsources satellite image analysis. In the case of the current project to map the presence of Weddell seals on the Antarctic Peninsula and the ice floes of the Weddell Sea, users are given an image tile and asked to indicate whether there are seals in the image. It’s harder than it looks, but it’s the kind of routine task that most people can do—many hands, light work and all that—and it helps researchers focus their attention where it needs focusing. (A similar campaign for the Ross Sea took place in 2016.)
Another ongoing campaign asks users to identify flooded and damaged infrastructure and trash heaps in post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico.
This NOAA article looks at three kinds of imagery provided by the GOES-16 geostationary weather satellite: GeoColor, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (!), and full disk infrared imagery from the Advanced Baseline Imager. GOES-16 launched last November and is currently in the checkout phase before it replaces GOES-13 at 75° west latitude.