On 23 July 1972, the first Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS 1 or Landsat 1) was successfully placed in orbit. The success of Landsat inaugurated a new era in satisfying mankind's desire to better understand the dynamic world upon which we live. Space-based observations have now become an essential means for monitoring global change.
The short- or long-term cumulative effects of processes that cause significant changes on the Earth's surface can be documented and studied by repetitive Landsat images. Such images provide a permanent historical record of the surface of our planet; they also make possible comparative two-dimensional measurements of change over time. This Professional Paper demonstrates the importance of the application of Landsat images to global studies by using them to determine the current distribution of glaciers on our planet. As images become available from future satellites, the new data will be used to document global changes in glacier extent by reference to the image record of the 1970's.
Although many geological processes take centuries or even millenia to produce obvious changes on the Earth's surface, other geological phenomena, such as glaciers and volcanoes, cause noticeable changes over shorter periods. Some of these phenomena can have a worldwide impact and often are interrelated. Explosive volcanic eruptions can produce dramatic effects on the global climate. Natural or culturally induced processes can cause global climatic cooling or warming. Glaciers respond to such warming or cooling periods by decreasing or increasing in size, thereby causing sea level to rise or fall.
As our understanding of the interrelationship of global processes improves and our ability to assess changes caused by these processes develops further, we will learn how to use indicators of global change, such as glacier variation, to more wisely manage the use of our finite land and water resources. This Professional Paper is an excellent example of the way in which we can use technology to provide needed earthscience information about our planet. The international collaboration represented by this report is also an excellent model for the kind of cooperation that scientists will increasingly find necessary in the future in order to solve important earth-science problems on a global basis.
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U.S. Geological Survey, U.S.Department of the Interior