TerraLook: Free Satellite Images for Busy People or the Technologically Disinterested

Although satellite images are now widely available they are still underutilized by the conservation community. Yet, such images are tremendously useful for discovering and monitoring change, for understanding what is happening on the ground, and for simple and powerful communication.

A variety of reasons contribute to this under-use, including complicated systems for obtaining and processing images, the need for fast Internet connections, and the belief that images are too difficult to find and use.

TerraLook, which was conceptualized after discussions with protected area managers, addresses these issues by providing historical and recent images in a simple format that can be viewed on any computer without special tools, and easily pasted into presentations--all for free. Global image "layers" are available for the years 1975, 1990, 2000, 2005, and 2010, and these make it easy to identify and communicate trends in, for example, forest loss or encroachment into protected areas.

Additionally, over two million more satellite images, from 2000 to the present, are available from an instrument called ASTER. And, through a special arrangement with ASTER, locations can be automatically and periodically monitored upon request, for free, anywhere on the globe.

Because many users need visualization and analysis tools, simple-to-use software is also available. This free, open source software provides a suite of basic image processing and "GIS" capabilities that help a user easily locate an area of interest on a map, then display, roam, and zoom the image, compare images acquired at different times, draw on the image, and a variety of other actions.

If satellite images or TerraLook are of interest, you may want to sign up for Conservation Campus 0062--Satellite Images for Conservation: A painless introduction using TerraLook. But sign up early as this course was heavily oversubscribed at the 2008 WCC in Barcelona.

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