By Aliya Sternstein 05/03/2011
Interior Department contractor Esri, a map software developer, is expected Tuesday to launch a commercial tool that will enable programmers and non-techies alike to manipulate Interior's library of Earth surface images and data captured by satellite over the past four decades, federal and company officials said.
On the new, free website, users can generate mashups showing, for example, how regional property values or Southern crop production have changed throughout the years.
Google Maps offers similar applications for making mashups, or graphics created by combining layers of pictures and statistics from multiple sources. Esri officials have said the company's offerings are unique in that they draw on geographic information databases rather than just visuals.
Esri, which supplies nearly every federal agency with mapping applications, collaborated closely with Interior on the so-called Landsat image services, government officials said.
"The Esri Landsat services suite will enable users to access satellite images of the Earth and see through time what's happened to our globe," Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes said in a statement. "Whether you're a fourth grader or in the midst of writing your Ph.D. thesis, having the ability to go back 30 years and visualize multitemporal Earth imagery can be tremendously helpful in answering questions about how we should manage the planet and address real-world problems."
Landsat, funded by Interior's U.S. Geological Survey and NASA, is a collection of land data obtained by satellites and sensors over nearly 40 years. The program serves as a resource for regional planning staff, agriculture professionals, climate scientists, first responders, and others.
All USGS Landsat data acquired since the program's inception in 1972 also is available at no charge through the federal site Earth Explorer.
"These Landsat image services expand the ability to monitor landscape change to Internet users worldwide," Esri President Jack Dangermond said in a statement.
According to USASpending.gov, a government site that tracks federal awards, since 2003 Interior has granted Esri contracts worth more than $29 million to support initiatives such as Geodata.gov, an online access point for downloading the government's trove of geospatial information.