How government agencies use SkyWatch

The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the United States and Canada is a unique area where shallow depressions, created by the scouring action of Pleistocene glaciation, interact with mid-continental climate variations to create and maintain a variety of wetland classes.

These wetlands possess unique environmental and biotic characteristics that add to the overall regional diversity, including the production of aquatic invertebrates and the vertebrate wildlife that depend upon them as food. Climatic extremes in the PPR have a profound and dynamic influence on wetland hydrology, hydroperiod, chemistry, and ultimately the biota, which is why scientists are so interested in monitoring the area.

Image of the Prairie pothole region - courtesy of the United States Geological Survey

Image of the Prairie pothole region - courtesy of the United States Geological Survey

For monitoring purposes, government agencies use a combination of satellite and field data to try and get a complete, accurate picture of how the region is evolving over time.

For example, the United States Geological Survey relies heavily on short wave infrared data to create hydrology flow maps. With these data, the USGS creates specific DEM layers that can be combined with statistical data collected from the field to build 3D models and landscape over-time animations.

Prior to SkyWatch, North American scientists monitoring the region would often use the Earth Explorer platform, but they could not always easily find the data required to develop their models, impacting their research on the health of the wetland regions.

One of the teams turned to SkyWatch, intrigued by the ability to access multiple data sets, including atmospheric — which they plan on using for future studies —, as well as the platform's ease of use. Rather than dealing with satellite data vendors on an individual basis, they would now access multiple data sources and set-up data pipelines to receive new Earth observation data by using one single platform. By switching to SkyWatch, this team reduced the time spent looking for Earth observation data by 10X.

By allowing access to multiple data sources through one query location, Skywatch EarthCache has significantly boosted workflow and GIS analysis for scientists. While in the past, they might have had to download extra data or scenes in order to fulfill a request, with the API they can now parse out those unnecessary data points and clip our scenes to their study sites. These capabilities will allow research centers to monitor areas of interest and record changes with ease moving forward.

For their initial study, the team of scientists looked at 180 specific wetland regions to monitor changes over time. Specifically, they requested imagery for each of their 180 areas of interest, every other week if possible, taken between 2013 and 2016. A data collection task take that would have previously taken the research center's technicians, days to complete was done in an hour.

 
 
 

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