An open letter for open satellite data

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Alicia Arenzana

With the 2015 Eye on Earth Summit and the EO Open Science Conference back-to-back, this is a really important moment for the Earth Observation community. Craig was asked to speak at both meetings about how you get your data to everyone that needs it. As Vizzuality’s data scientist I work with a lot of Earth Observation data, so I wanted to write this post as a plea to the community to make these services open and usable, to unleash this data to help solve the world’s biggest issues.


Photo by IISD/ENB


I love working with satellite data, especially as it can fill crucial data gaps across the world; as we showed with Global Forest Watch. With ESA’s Sentinels coming online shortly, there’s a whole host of new data we could get our hands on. This data will be: more accurate, at 10m pixel resolution, up from 30m on the current landsat; detect all manner of things from climate change to moisture in soil, and; update more frequently. From detecting the volume of water in a waterbody to estimating crop yield, the ability to process these images is advancing as well. It’s truly an exciting time!

As we’ve noted in some of our previous blog posts, and you’ll see from some of the releases coming up soon, we want to bring this data to an audience of human beings who can use it to do things like grow crops more sustainably or react to deforestation quicker. At Vizzuality we see ourselves at the forefront of a ‘presentation revolution’, telling compelling stories to people with the world’s best data.

But it’s not always that easy to access this data. With ESA for example, the open data is fragmented across a number of different agencies and websites, each with their own drawn-out login process. And once you’ve done all that, it’s not that easy to actually use that data through an API.

Since it launched last year, we’ve reached over 700,000 people with the earth observation data in Global Forest Watch. Building on freely available, machine readable, open data, we created a platform to visualise the data in an accessible, understandable way. We’re trying to achieve the same level of success with four other projects at the moment, bringing big earth observation data to the world and helping people make decisions for a more sustainable planet. And we look around us and see people like WRI, Development Seed and Planet Labs doing the same.

So here’s my request to the creators of satellite data, from your biggest fan, Alicia: make it easier for me, and all the other data scientists, wranglers and researchers out there, to build web tools with your data so we can get the data out there in the hands of the people that can make the most difference.

With Love

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