Initiated in 1972, the Landsat program has provided a continuous record of earth observation for 35??years. The assemblage of Landsat spatial, spectral, and temporal resolutions, over a reasonably sized image extent, results in imagery that can be processed to represent land cover over large areas with an amount of spatial detail that is absolutely unique and indispensable for monitoring, management, and scientific activities. Recent technical problems with the two existing Landsat satellites, and delays in the development and launch of a successor, increase the likelihood that a gap in Landsat continuity may occur. In this communication, we identify the key features of the Landsat program that have resulted in the extensive use of Landsat data for large area land cover mapping and monitoring. We then augment this list of key features by examining the data needs of existing large area land cover monitoring programs. Subsequently, we use this list as a basis for reviewing the current constellation of earth observation satellites to identify potential alternative data sources for large area land cover applications. Notions of a virtual constellation of satellites to meet large area land cover mapping and monitoring needs are also presented. Finally, research priorities that would facilitate the integration of these alternative data sources into existing large area land cover monitoring programs are identified. Continuity of the Landsat program and the measurements provided are critical for scientific, environmental, economic, and social purposes. It is difficult to overstate the importance of Landsat; there are no other systems in orbit, or planned for launch in the short-term, that can duplicate or approach replication, of the measurements and information conferred by Landsat. While technical and political options are being pursued, there is no satellite image data stream poised to enter the National Satellite Land Remote Sensing Data Archive should system failures occur to Landsat-5 and -7. Crown Copyright ?? 2007.
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Landsat continuity: Issues and opportunities for land cover monitoring