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U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1796

An Economic Value of Remote-Sensing Information—Application to Agricultural Production and Maintaining Groundwater Quality

By William M. Forney , Ronald P. Raunikar, Richard L. Bernknopf, and Shruti K. Mishra

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (12.2 MB)Abstract

Does remote-sensing information provide economic benefits to society, and can a value be assigned to those benefits? Can resource management and policy decisions be better informed by coupling past and present Earth observations with groundwater nitrate measurements? Using an integrated assessment approach, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) applied an established conceptual framework to answer these questions, as well as to estimate the value of information (VOI) for remote-sensing imagery. The approach uses moderate-resolution land-imagery (MRLI) data from the Landsat and Advanced Wide Field Sensor satellites that has been classified by the National Agricultural Statistics Service into the Cropland Data Layer (CDL). Within the constraint of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s public health threshold for potable groundwater resources, the USGS modeled the relation between a population of the CDL’s land uses and dynamic nitrate (NO3-) contamination of aquifers in a case study region in northeastern Iowa. Employing various multiscaled, multitemporal geospatial datasets with MRLI to maximize the value of agricultural production, the approach develops and uses multiple environmental science models to address dynamic nitrogen loading and transport at specified distances from specific sites (wells) and at landscape scales (for example, across 35 counties and two aquifers). In addition to the ecosystem service of potable groundwater, this effort focuses on the use of MRLI for the management of the major land uses in the study region—the production of corn and soybeans, which can impact groundwater quality. Derived methods and results include (1) economic and dynamic nitrate-pollution models, (2) probabilities of the survival of groundwater, and (3) a VOI for remote sensing. For the northeastern Iowa study region, the marginal benefit of the MRLI VOI (in 2010 dollars) is $858 million ± $197 million annualized, which corresponds to a net present value of $38.1 billion ± $8.8 billion for that flow of benefits in perpetuity. Given that these economic estimates are derived from one case study in a part of only one State, the estimates provide a lower estimate related to the potential value of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission.

First posted January 10, 2013

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Suggested citation:

Forney, W.M., Raunikar, R.P., Bernknopf, R.L., and Mishra, S.K., 2012, An economic value of remote-sensing information—Application to agricultural production and maintaining groundwater quality: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1796, 60 p. (Available at




Conceptual Framework and Economic Model

Empirical Application and Methods

Materials and Data

Results and Discussion

Summary and Conclusions


References Cited

Appendixes 1–3

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