Users and uses of Landsat 8 satellite imagery—2014 survey results

Product Type: 

Open-file Report




Miller, Holly M.

Suggested Citation: 

Miller, Holly M. 2016. Users and uses of Landsat 8 satellite imagery—2014 survey results. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1032. 27 pp. DOI: 10.3133/ofr20161032.

Executive Summary

In 2013, Landsat 8 began adding high quality, global, moderate-resolution imagery to the more than 40-year archive of Landsat imagery. To assess the potential effects of the availability of Landsat 8 imagery on users and their work, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Land Remote Sensing Program (LRS) initiated a survey of Landsat users. The objectives of the survey were to 

1. Characterize various Landsat user groups, such as United States (U.S.) and international users and Landsat 8 and non-Landsat 8 users;
2. Identify any differences among user groups in uses and preferences;
3. Measure the importance of and satisfaction with Landsat 8 attributes;
4. Assess the importance to users of the frequency of usable imagery; and
5. Determine any challenges in using Landsat 8.

The online survey was sent to 51,617 Landsat users registered with USGS in May 2014. Almost 13,000 people responded to the survey for a response rate of 25 percent (n = 12,966). Current Landsat users (users who had used Landsat in their work in the year prior to the survey) composed 89 percent of the sample (n = 11,549) and past Landsat users composed 11 percent (n = 1,417). The results reported here apply to current Landsat users registered with the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center.  

Users from 161 countries responded to the survey. Of those, 19 percent were citizens or permanent residents of the United States and 81 percent resided in other countries. More than  70 percent of current users had used Landsat 8 in the year prior to the survey. The majority of Landsat 8 users (65 percent) were established users who used Landsat imagery regularly both before and after Landsat 8 imagery became available. The average current Landsat user was male, 36 years old, and highly educated, with 9 years of experience using satellite imagery or geographic information system (GIS) software. Landsat 8 users had, on average, two more years of experience than non-Landsat 8 users. Users were employed predominantly by academic institutions  (65 percent), followed by private businesses (13 percent), Federal governments (10 percent),  State and local governments (6 percent), and nonprofit organizations (6 percent).

Of the Landsat imagery obtained in the past year by current users, on average 31 percent came from a Landsat 8 sensor. An equivalent amount came from the Landsat 7 ETM+ sensor  (33 percent); slightly less came from Landsats 4 and 5 TM sensors (27 percent). Much less came from Landsats 1 through 5 MSS sensors (5 percent). Overall, more than a third of users’ work used Landsat imagery (38 percent). Of this work, on average, 37 percent of the work was operational. Landsat 8 users considered a greater proportion of their work operational than non-Landsat 8 users (39 percent compared with 29 percent). Environmental sciences and management were the most commonly selected primary applications (selected by 42 percent of users). Land use/land cover  (23 percent) was the second most commonly selected primary application, followed by education  (12 percent), agriculture (9 percent), and planning and development (6 percent).  

Landsat 8 users were asked to rank the importance of certain attributes in determining whether to use Landsat 8 imagery in their work. The archive was ranked most important, followed by cost, spatial resolution, extent of coverage, data quality, and frequency of revisit. Users were asked how satisfied they were with these same attributes as they currently apply to Landsat 8 imagery. On average, users were most satisfied with lack of cost, extent of coverage, data quality, and the archive, but they were satisfied with all attributes.

Users were asked how often they needed Landsat imagery to meet various requirements for their primary application. The survey question specifically asked how often users needed usable imagery, which differs from how often they would like the Landsat satellites to acquire an image. Users were asked to identify their needed frequency of usable imagery for the following levels:

1. Threshold level—the minimum frequency of usable imagery needed to be of any value to their primary application. 
2. Breakthrough level—the frequency of usable imagery that would result in a significant improvement for their primary application of the imagery.
3. Target level—the frequency of usable imagery that would only provide a limited additional increase in the expected performance for their primary application.

To meet the threshold level, three-quarters of users needed usable imagery every 17 days or less frequently. At the breakthrough level, two-thirds of users (64 percent) needed a usable image every 5–16 days. The current constellation of two satellites (Landsat 7 and 8) is capable of meeting the threshold and breakthrough needs of most users at least some of the time, but a single satellite would be highly unlikely to do so. Two-fifths of users (40 percent) felt that usable imagery provided every 4 days or more frequently would meet their target level which the current Landsat constellation cannot provide. Landsat 8 users were significantly more likely than non-Landsat 8 users to need usable imagery more frequently to meet their target levels. Additionally, U.S. Landsat 8 users were significantly more likely than other Landsat users to need usable imagery more frequently in order meet both their breakthrough and target levels.  

To explore the effect of the availability of Landsat 8 imagery on Landsat imagery use in general, established users (those who had consistently used Landsat imagery both before and after Landsat 8 imagery became available) using Landsat 8 imagery were asked about changes in the amount of Landsat imagery they used. The majority of established users using Landsat 8 imagery (60 percent) reported an average increase of 51 percent in the number of scenes obtained after Landsat 8 imagery became available. Landsat 8 users were asked if they had encountered challenges in using Landsat 8 whereas non-Landsat 8 users were asked if such challenges had played a role in why they were not using Landsat 8 imagery. Although many users did not encounter challenges when using or trying to use Landsat 8 data, slightly less than 30 percent did encounter issues with processing the data to a usable point. The most common issue reported was not being able to create or have access to a surface reflectance corrected product. Other challenges were related to the file sizes of images being too large to download, store, or analyze. There were no statistically significant differences between Landsat 8 and non-Landsat 8 users in terms of challenges encountered when using or trying to use the imagery, which indicates that users were not unduly discouraged by the challenges they may have encountered. When asked about potential consequences of not using Landsat 8, more than half of the non-Landsat 8 users did not report detrimental effects on their work from not using the imagery. Of those who did report detrimental effects, decreased quality of work, decreased scope of work, and increased time spent on work were the most common.   

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Holly Miller
Holly Miller