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How to use satellite data free of charge to monitor natural disasters or environmental changes


Qiusheng Wu University of Tennessee 

If you want to track changes in the Amazon rainforest, see the full expanse of a hurricane or figure out where people need help after a disaster, it’s much easier to do with the view from a satellite orbiting a few hundred miles above Earth.

Today, more than 8,000 satellites orbit Earth, taking images such as this one of the Louisiana coast.
NASA Earth Observatory

Access to satellite data was traditionally restricted to professionals who are skilled in image processing and remote sensing. With the growing availability of open-access data from satellites like Landsat and Sentinel and cloud-computing resources like Amazon Web Services and Google Earth Engine, anyone can gain insight into environmental changes.

As a professor, I am involved in geospatial big-data. Here’s a quick tour of where you can find satellite images, plus some free, fairly simple tools that anyone can use to create time-lapse animations from satellite images.

For example, state and urban planners – or people considering a new home – can watch over time how rivers have moved,…

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