Citius, Altius, Fortius

February 08, 2002 -(date of web publication)

Animated GIF of the rotating earth

Image 1

Olympic Zoom - Click here to view a zoom from space into the Olympic stadium. - 1 MB
Click here to see more zooms into the Olympic venues.

Tickets may already be gone, but thanks to NASA there's still one way you can drop in on the opening and closing ceremonies for the Salt Lake City Olympics. By carefully fusing image data from NASA's Terra and Landsat spacecraft, as well as the commercial Ikonos satellite belonging to Space Imaging, the space agency brings you this remarkable view of the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium as captured from space.

The scene is also something of a celebration for the space agency; 2002 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the highly successful Landsat program. Located on the University of Utah campus, Rice-Eccles is the place for one of the world's biggest celebrations this year. Nearly 45,000 people will pack the stands there, while several billion people around the world will catch all or part of the festivities on television.

The development of this zoom and ones like it has roots in important scientific research. The computer science expertise necessary to assemble the scene demands world-class custom software, powerful hardware, and a lot of know-how. Images like this illustrate the power of remote sensing, the ability of scientists to gain perspective on their subject and make measurements from a distance.

30 Years of NASA's Remote Sensing Experience Shines at 2002 Olympics

2002 marks the thirty year anniversary of Landsat, a family of Earth observing satellites that's helped re-write the book about what we know about the processes of change on our home planet. During that time, NASA has refined its technologies and broadened its horizons. On orbit now are not only the latest and most advanced Landsat platform to date, but also a suite of other remote sensing instruments, each designed to collect vital information about the interconnected systems that define the Earth.

The thirty-year Landsat milestone coincides with the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. As eyes around the world turn to that snow-covered scene, the space agency releases a remarkable tour of that city in Utah, composed of images collected by space-based instruments. And while the sights themselves are almost as compelling as the competition on the snow and ice below, the scientific opportunities are genuinely world class.

Citius, Altius, Fortius

image of Earth from space

Image 2

Click here for the Reporter Package - Note: 6.07 MB download

Swifter, higher, stronger--and that's to say nothing of the athletes competing this year at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. In terms of world-class performance, NASA's Earth Observing System is clearly a medal contender.

This fly-by shows several of the Olympic venues as seen by a powerful satellite called Landsat 7. But images like this merely describe NASA's larger Earth observing efforts. The fleet also includes a small instrument with an impressive success record called SeaWiFS. It's a top contender in measuring the colors of Earth. Since scientists use color as a direct indicator of life processes, this satellite's value isn't measured by mere size. A recently released assessment of the global carbon cycle is a first-a new world record, if you will.

But technologies like Landsat and SeaWiFs are only part of the story. By studying how planetary processes change over time, experts are starting to understand how they function at fundamental levels. That's where models like this come in to play. This remarkable scene shows a portion of a computer simulation called NSIPP-the NASA Seasonal to Interannual Prediction Project. NSIPP posits what the future might be, simulating the Earth's climate inside the silicon brain of some of the most powerful computers in the world.

In science as in competitive athletics, there are always surprises. To that end, NASA salutes the athletes of the 2002 Olympic games. See you in Salt Lake City.

Olympic Venues Seen from Space

pushpins show where the Olympic venues will be

Image 3

Click here for animation of the Olympic venues- Note: 4 MB download
For lower speed modems, check out this link for a smaller version of this animation.
- 1.44 MB

How can you see Salt Lake City's Olympic venues in twenty seconds? Try this. We're taking you on a fly-over of the region via the remarkable eyes of Landsat 7, NASA's land mapping champion. Scattered around the map you'll see a number of colored push-pins, designating various Olympic event locations.

This scene shows surface features as small as fifteen meters-a target from space proportionally smaller in scale than even the remarkably small biathlon target in the games. Planetary surface features in this sequence have been exaggerated vertically by a factor of six to more clearly show their contours.

A Leisurely Tour of Salt Lake City

thumbnail image of Salt Lake City

Image 4

Click here for a tour of Salt Lake City - Note: 5.45 MB download QuickTime Format

Click here for a tour of Salt Lake City - Note: 9 MB download MPEG-1 Format

We're looking south as we begin this inspiring journey. Using imagery captured by Landsat 7 on February 8, 2001, the peaks of the Utah Rockies ring the Olympic sites in and around Salt Lake City like minarets. This majestic panorama showcases one of the powerful features of Earth imaging systems like Landsat. As we see here, relatively localized regions can be studied in geographical context to surrounding areas, affording experts in a variety of fields a wide range of land management and scientific information. Features like roads and buildings appear clearly across the plains, while at the same time we can see complex yet subtle characteristics about the surrounding landscape. Even along the edges of the lakes in this scene we can see texture and color gradients, indicating details about shallow water sediment and the shore.

The Seasons of Salt Lake City

fall in Salt Lake City

Images 5 and 6

spring in Salt Lake City

Click here for an animation of the seasons of Salt Lake City. - 2.17 MB

Landsat 7 monitors the Earth constantly, recording an ever-lengthening and vital history of our planet's process of change over time. In this sequence we look at the greater Salt Lake City region through the four seasons. We begin in winter, traveling south to north, facing west.

Derivation of useful information from satellite imagery is a science unto itself. While the colors in these images are enhanced to most dramatically convey seasonal change, land imaging professionals can use highly sophisticated algorithms to extract complex information about surface features, including many details that are not detectable by the human eye.

Landsat 7 collected the data for these images on the following dates:

Winter: February 8, 2001
Spring: May 28, 2000
Summer: July 31, 2000
Fall: October 19, 2000

Then and Now: A 28 Year Landsat Comparison

Salt Lake City circa 1972

Images 7 and 8

Salt Lake City circa 2001

Click here for an animation of how Salt Lake City has changed from 1972 to 2001. - 874 KB QuickTime Format

Click here for an animation of how Salt Lake City has changed from 1972 to 2001. - 163 KB MPEG-1 Format

Take a look at an old family photograph. If there's one thing that catches your attention (besides the ubiquity of bell bottoms) it's probably how much everyone has changed over time.
That's one of the principle forces behind the maintenance of a long-term remote sensing record. By watching our planet from space over time, experts can literally track how the Earth is changing due to human and natural causes. With specific regard to the 2002 Olympic Games, the greater Salt Lake City region has changed profoundly over the past three decades. The city limits have grown far beyond their older boundaries, and plant life in the surrounding area has changed for a variety of reasons. The mountains remain, of course, but carved into their sides are new ski runs, highways, tunnels, and other construction projects.

Landsat 7 took the most recent image. The older comparison scene comes from its elder sibling, a spacecraft called ERTS-1, or Earth Resources Technology Satellite. Originally the name for the overall program, ERTS was changed to Landsat in the 70s to better capture the essential purpose of the project. To date it has been one of the most successful long-term remote sensing missions in history.

This sequence and the two that follow alternate between two images several times. Landsat collected the data for the first on August 7, 1972 and the second on July 31, 2000.

The Richest Hole in the Earth

copper mine in Utah, circa 1972

Images 9 and 10

copper mine in Utah, circa 2001

Click here for an animation of the changes in Bingham mine over the past 30 years. - 838 KB QuickTime Format

Click here for an animation of the changes in Bingham mine over the past 30 years. - 165 KB MPEG-1 Format

Officially it's called the Bingham Canyon Mine, but regardless of its title this is the place where money comes out of the ground. Starting in 1906, this immense mine began producing a flabbergasting quantity of metals and other minerals. To date, it is the single biggest producer of copper in the world.

But this gigantic pit dug in an unending chase of raw materials can also lay claim to another peculiar title: it's the largest human-dug hole on the planet. It stretches approximately 3/4 of a mile down and more than 2 1/2 miles wide.

These two Landsat scenes show how much the mine has changed and grown in twenty-eight years. The primary hole itself has deepened, while the perimeter has stretched and expanded.

In World War II copper output just from this one mine produced more than one third of all the copper used by the Allies. In the early 1990s, as much as 300,000 tons of copper came from Bingham Canyon each year. Yet while copper remains its most well known product, this vast endeavor outside of Salt Lake City also produces enormous quantities of gold, silver, molybdenum, and other metals. But the treasures of Bingham Canyon did not emerge without serious work. Each of the purified metals in quantity are the result of huge efforts to sort through more than 6 billion tons of rock that have been pulled out of the ground since 1906.

The Great Salt Lake-Vast and Vibrant

Great Salt Lake 1972

Images 11 and 12

Great Salt Lake 2001

Click here for an animation of how the Great Salt Lake has changed over time. - 788 Kb

Click here for an animation of how the Great Salt Lake has changed over time. - 159 KB MPEG-1 Format

Covering an area of approximately 1,485 square miles, the Great Salt Lake on the edge of Salt Lake City, Utah stretches like a lyric answer to the Rocky Mountains' declarative theme. The lake does not have any outlets; water that finds its way into the lake basin can only leave by evaporation. As a result, the dissolved minerals left behind makes the water more than eight times as salty as ocean water.

The basin holding the lake is wide and flat, averaging from 13 to 24 feet in depth, with shallow slopes around most of the perimeter. As a result, increased inflows of water do not cause the depth to change so much as they cause the edges to spread out. Heavy snow melts and rainy seasons can have pronounced changes on the shape of the lake.

In the two Landsat images shown here, we can see strong variability in the lake. Notice how the perimeter changes dramatically, with striking differences in shoreline sedimentation and color. Urban development along the shores also appears as a significant feature that changes over time. But perhaps most interesting is the dividing line between the northern and southern parts of the lake. In the original image, taken from space on August 7, 1972, you can see a thin line dividing two slightly different colors of water. That line is a twelve mile long causeway connecting the east and west shores. Construction of that causeway inhibited circulation of water from one side to the other, changing the salt balance between the sides and prompting differences in the kinds of life that grow in each environment.

Replacement of the causeway with a bridge in 1984 changed things, allowing more water to circulate between the north and south. In the later Landsat picture, captured on July 31, 2000, you can see that the color division is less apparent, with the lake now more uniform in its salinity.

Remote Sensing Charts the Biosphere in Motion

map showing the seasonal changes in ocean and land-based plant life in regions around the U.S.

Image 13

Click here to view animation of seasonal changes - 1.44 MB

NASA designed SeaWiFS to study ocean processes. But the mission has surpassed its initial design goals. By carefully calibrating the sensor, experts have been able to use SeaWiFS data to monitor life on land, too.

Throughout the duration of the project, affiliated researchers have produced a series of high-resolution images to help them better understand seasonal changes in ocean and land-based plant life in regions around the U.S. In the following visualization, SeaWiFS depicts the presence of chlorophyll in the ocean in terms of a color scale. High concentrations of chlorophyll appear red, while low concentrations show up blue. In the oceans, chlorophyll corresponds with the presence of phytoplankton, the world's engine of life. On land, chlorophyll shows up in leaves and other photosynthetic flora.

As we consider a flat map painted in the color-coded data gathered by SeaWiFS over the last three years, it's important to note the relative oxygen production of plant life in the ocean versus on land. While the ocean doesn't put out as much oxygen per square meter as vibrant rainforest, taken as a whole the ocean does produce roughly the same amount as the Earth's total land surface. This is due to the vastly larger area of ocean on the surface, essentially making up for the discrepancy in square meter productivity.

A Gold Medal Climate Model

NASA Seasonal to Interannual Prediction Project image of virtual climate

Image 14

Click here to view animation of climate modeling - 1.16 MB

Some things require perspective. Stand too close to a mountain and you cannot appreciate its overall size and scale. The same goes for events experienced over time. A mostly sunny day would seem dreary if it were only experienced at the moment a lonely cloud passed in front of the sun. But taken over time, that brief moment of shadow takes its relative place among many hours of light, simply adding motley complexity to an otherwise cheerful day. Temporal perspective can be just as important as spatial perspective.

The issue of perspective presents interesting challenges for climatologists. Since climate describes general characteristics for a given area over time, it can take years to collect enough data to adequately understand what is climatologically natural for a particular part of the Earth.

That's why experts turn to computer models. In the heart of a computer, complex programs can simulate the dynamic characteristics of climate at a vastly accelerated rate as compared to the real world. Natural events that would take days or longer can be speeded up to take only minutes, seconds, or even less. It's a way to create experimental environments where researchers can study phenomena that ordinarily would take too long or be too large to measure in the real world.

Here you see the result: virtual climate taking place in artificial time. These images are the result of NSIPP, the NASA Seasonal to Interannual Prediction Project. All the data used to create these pictures come directly from the model, based on what we believe to be the rules that govern climate. We begin with a scene that shows sea surface temperatures alone. Experts say that sea surface temperatures have profound influences on many vital elements of global climate trends, from rainfall totals to winds to air temperatures.

Next we add a layer of virtual water vapor. This shows large-scale transport of moisture through the atmosphere. If you keep an eye on the greater Salt Lake City region, you'll notice relatively little water vapor. Watch what happens next.

In the last scene we add data showing relative soil moisture. Notice how the area around Salt Lake City appears mostly brown. It turns out that water vapor and soil moisture are intimately related; they function as a feedback loop. Dry soil tends to provoke limited rainfall, thus remaining dry. Moist soil tends to coax precipitation; hence it tends to stay moist. In this model, we see the laws of nature played out in virtual space and time.

Computer time is not arbitrary. Although simulated, it too has dates. This modeled climate sequence is running on NSIPP data taken from December 1, 2001 to December 1, 2002.

NSIPP: Climate in a Computer

archive of climate modeling map

Image 15

Click here to view animation of soil moisture. - 1.64 MB

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center developed NSIPP. It uses real-world sea surface temperature measurements to set its simulated weather patterns in motion. In some ways, these visualizations are like timelines that could have been: they use historical ocean temperature measurements to initiate simulated sequences of climatological events. By comparing those simulated events to the actual historical record of climate and weather, the science team can make refinements to their model, thus gaining a deeper understanding of how the different processes fit together.

On these maps, green areas indicate regions that the model says should have had higher than average quantities of soil moisture. Brown areas show places that should have had lower levels of soil moisture. Accurate analysis of total soil moisture is a major tool for understanding the nature of overall seasonal precipitation. The wispy veil curling across the map depicts estimations of water vapor in the atmosphere-an influential component to overall climate behavior.

The data used to generate the moving images describe regions of the planet approximately two and a half degrees wide.

Blue Marble: Painting the Planet with a New Brush

true-color image of Earth to date

Image 16

Click here to view a zoom from Salt Lake City to space. - 1.82 MB

The world is a big place and even from space, it's not easy to see the whole thing at the same time. But using an instrument called MODIS onboard the Earth observing flagship Terra, scientists have assembled the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date. In this sequence we start in close to the greater area around Salt Lake City and pull back to reveal the rest of the Earth.

You can download your own mosaic by visiting the Earth Observatory Blue Marble page.

Landsat: Continuing a Legacy of Earth Observation

artist rendering of the Landsat satellite

Image 17

Click here to view animation of Landsat - 0.99 MB

Landsat 7 is the latest in a series of satellites. From an altitude of 438 miles (730 kilometers), Landsat 7 can see surface features as small as 15 meters, providing world-wide land resource information for a diverse range of uses.

The only scientific instrument onboard the satellite is the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus, a passive sensor that measure reflected solar radiation (light) from the surface of the Earth. Landsat 7 is part of a global research effort NASA calls the Earth Science Enterprise, which seeks to acquire a long term understanding of the changes to our planet. NASA officially called the first Landsat satellite the Earth Resources Technology Satellite, or ERTS-1, on July 23, 1972. Since then the program has continued to pave the way in research and data acquisition techniques about the surface of our planet.

NASA, USGS, and university researchers use imagery from these satellites to study how our planet is changing, and to view local and regional changes in their global context. Such changes include crop maturity in farm states during the growing season, the waxing and waning of severe storms and El Nino, deforestation in the Amazon and reforestation in New England, and thinning and thickening of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

The USGS Earth Resources Observation Systems Data Center (EROS Data Center) in Sioux Falls, SD processes, archives, and distributes all U.S. Landsat data. The Landsat Project Office, located at Goddard, manages Landsat development for NASA's Office of Earth Science in Washington, DC.

SeaWiFS: Big Returns from a Small Package

artist rendering of SeaWiFS satellite

Image 18

Click here to view animation of SeaWiFS -Note: 5.42 MB download

SeaWiFS (Sea-Viewing Wide Field of View Sensor) is the scientific portion of the OrbView-2 satellite, orbiting The Earth at an altitude of 423 miles (705 kilometers). By providing a regular picture of the planet's color, SeaWiFS helps researchers learn about the state of the world's interconnected ecosystems. OrbView-2 blasted into space on August 1, 1997 lifted by an extended Pegasus rocket. SeaWiFS is considered a low cost mission, many orders of magnitude less expensive than other Earth observing instruments. In scientific terms, however, this little instrument has proved to be one of the space agency's star performers, it's highly focused mission parameters netting huge scientific returns for researchers studying a wide variety of questions.

Terra: The Modern Flagship of the Earth Observing System
Terra is a multinational orbiting research platform managed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. By synchronizing a sophisticated suite of sensors and instruments, Terra is helping researchers pursue some of the grandest and most complex questions about the nature of our home planet. The instruments onboard can simultaneously study clouds, water vapor, aerosol particles, trace gases, terrestrial and ocean properties, and systemic interactions on a planetary scale.

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