NASA historic Earth images still hold research value

March 19, 2014
This Seasat synthetic aperture radar image from Aug. 27, 1978, shows the Massachusetts coast from Nantucket Island in the south past Cape Cod and Boston to Cape Ann in the north. The dark patch east and south of Nantucket is caused by the Nantucket Shoals, where a shallow ocean bottom creates surface waves and currents that appear as variations in brightness on the image. More subtle darker and lighter stripes to the east and north of Cape Cod are caused by internal waves, which are formed within the ocean by tides, rather than on the ocean surface by winds. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Alaska Satellite Facility

( —NASA's Seasat satellite became history long ago, but it left a legacy of images of Earth's ocean, volcanoes, forests and other features that were made by the first synthetic aperture radar ever mounted on a satellite. Potential research uses for the recently released 35-year-old images are outlined in a paper published in the journal Eos today, March 18.

Seasat, which was managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was the first satellite mission designed specifically to observe the ocean. Launched in 1978, it suffered a mission-ending power failure after 105 days of operation. But in that short time, Seasat collected more information about the ocean than had been acquired in the previous hundred years of shipboard research, said Benjamin Holt, a research scientist at JPL and coauthor of the Eos paper. The complete catalog of Seasat images has been processed digitally and is freely available from the Alaska Satellite Facility.

"There's still unique oceanographic data in these products that haven't been duplicated by more recent missions," said Holt. "We see different things in the Seasat images of the than are seen by other satellites carrying ." This technology allows researchers to create very high-resolution images using complex information-processing techniques.

The 1978 data set also has value for climate studies of land cover simply because of its age. Holt noted that the images of Alaskan, Canadian and Norwegian glaciers are much earlier than any other that are currently available. This gives glaciologists an earlier baseline against which to measure the glaciers' rates of change.

Explore further: Earth-observing satellite to launch from Calif. (Update)

More information: To access the Seasat images, visit:

Related Stories

TRMM satellite images show California soaker moved eastward

March 6, 2014

The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM satellite provided a look at the rainfall associated with the large storm system that brought soaking rains to California on Feb. 28 and Mar. 1. Satellite imagery created at ...

Recommended for you

Blue skies, frozen water detected on Pluto

October 8, 2015

Pluto has blue skies and patches of frozen water, according to the latest data out Thursday from NASA's unmanned New Horizons probe, which made a historic flyby of the dwarf planet in July.

Orbiter views Mars surface fractures

October 8, 2015

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter often takes images of Martian sand dunes to study the mobile soils. These images provide information about erosion and ...

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.