The terms of the new Landsat 8 satellite agreement between the governments of the United States and Australia acknowledge that Geoscience Australia (GA), like its senior partner the US Geological Survey, is committed to making more spatial data more readily publicly available.

This commitment is a significant operational expression of GA’s mission statement of ‘applying geosciences to Australia’s most important challenges’.

The new Landsat 8 satellite is scheduled to be launched in early 2013, with GA’s full implementation being scheduled for May or June 2013.

Upon full implementation, which involves the deployment of major infrastructure upgrades by GA, data will be beamed from Landsat 8 on a daily basis to GA-operated ground stations in Alice Springs and Darwin. As soon as possible after receipt and processing, GA will make the satellite images publicly available free of charge.

GA will make the data available under a Creative Commons CC BY Australia 3.0 licence, which will facilitate legal reuse of the images.

GA is expecting a major upsurge in demand for the images when its free to air service is up and running. Jeff Kingwell, Section Leader of GA’s National Earth Observation Group, has indicated this prediction is based on the experience of its senior partner Geological Survey where there was a 1000 fold usage increase on commencement of its free to air service online. “Our experience is that using the Creative Commons Attribution Licence – which is the default licence for GA information – makes the data more useful and easier to apply. For example, to help the Indonesian government to monitor forest management, GA supplies Landsat data from a number of foreign data archives. Since we can apply the same licence conditions to each data source, the information is much more useful and easier to share and reuse.”

The Landsat 8 initiative when implemented is expected to be accompanied by decreasing time-lag in the availability of satellite information, which will enable them to be used for an ever increasing range of purposes.

Jeff Kingwell indicated that GA had taken the strategic decision to retrieve its ten years and more archive of Landsat images and to make these available online. The online release of this data will greatly facilitate time-series analysis of land use.

Dr Marta Poblet, director of the Institute of Law and Technology at the Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona and currently a visiting research fellow in the School of Management and Information Systems at Victoria University, Melbourne, describes GA’s Landsat 8 initiative as “a big advance”. Dr Poblet is team coordinator for the Standby Task Force, a global network of online volunteers who has partnered with international organisations such as UNOCHA, UNHCR, and Amnesty International USA in assisting and implementing responses to natural disasters and emergencies around the globe.  According to Dr Poblet, although the resolution of the images being provided by GA is not high, they will be very useful for a variety of purposes.  Dr Poblet considers that making the images available free of charge and under Creative Commons licences is likely to facilitate innovative uses of the images by both the public and private sectors, including social initiatives that apply crowdsourcing methods and mobile applications.

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