“Adopt A Pixel” to Help Landsat Science

Katarina Samurović


While we commonly perceive satellites as superior to any land observation methods, the truth is that sometimes the landscape is changing more rapidly than satellite data can be updated. Also, depending on the clarity, satellite imaging can miss some crucial detail.

Here is where citizen science comes in – via the NASA’s Adopt A Pixel program. Technology has enabled regular citizens – educated in science or not – to do simple volunteer tasks which help the progress of significant, long-term scientific projects. The phenomenon is known as citizen science.

Adopt A Pixel program has existed for quite some time – from 2013 – in the form of a web service which allowed users to upload geospatially tagged landscape images to complement the remote sensing collections. The protocol was simple and straightforward but still guided by the input from Landsat Science which ensured quality and scientific utility. Earlier this autumn, Adopt A Pixel was incorporated into the NASA’s GLOBE Observer App as the Land Cover Tool.

As a citizen scientist, how do you “adopt a pixel” and what does it actually means?

The main task of an enthusiast using the app is to make land cover photographs, along with entering basic observations – terrain and vegetation type, land usage, and detail about potential changes. As time passes, you will be able to update the information if you have happened to witness changes in the sites you are monitoring. The more people participate, the more quality information can be gathered.

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The comparison between the satellite imagery and the Globe Observer citizen data helps Landsat scientists get a clearer picture about what is truly going on at the ground level, and capture the rate of changes, which can sometimes be rapid – think wildfires or floods for example.

Adopt A Pixel and GLOBE Observer concepts have an especially important role in tracking down climate change and its effects. It can also paint a clearer picture of environmental destruction caused by anthropogenic factors. Last but not least, since GLOBE Observer is a global community with ties in education, you will help strengthen education in Earth science around the world.

To participate, you just need to download the free GLOBE Observer app and submit regular observations.

Besides the Land Cover Tool, The GLOBE Observer currently gathers information on two other topics: clouds and mosquito habitats.

Cloud observations are significant since clouds affect our climate by helping transfer (or block) Sun’s energy. However, they change so rapidly that frequent human observations are the most reliable way of collecting cloud data.

Mosquito Habitat Mapper lets a citizen scientist record and share locations of mosquito breeding sites, which is significant considering the insect’s role as a disease vector. The data are loaded into computer models in order to predict potential outbreaks and epidemics.

Through the future versions of the app NASA plans to expand the GLOBE Observer program and include more tools and new types of monitoring, so watch out for more exciting challenges for citizen scientists.

If you are interested in learning more about the entire GLOBE program, visit https://observer.globe.gov/.


About GLOBE Observer: https://observer.globe.gov/about

Adopt a Pixel – Data Infrastructure. USGS. https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/5320a2cee4b0224be0a97a14

Adopt a Pixel Photographs: 2013-Present. Department of the Interior. https://catalog.data.gov/dataset/adopt-a-pixel-photographs-2013-present

GLOBE Observer – Get the App https://observer.globe.gov/about/get-the-app

GLOBE Adopt a Pixel, NASA (video):. https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/13053

Landsat Science https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

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About the author
Katarina Samurović
Katarina Samurović is an environmental analyst and a freelance science writer. She has a special interest in biodiversity, ecoclimatology, biogeography, trees, and insects.