Five Things Spy Satellites Have Taught Us About Earth

The images are time capsules showing a time before decades of wildfires and erosion. Here are five things scientists found out from these spy satellites.

Five Things Spy Satellites Have Taught Us About Earth
Five Things Spy Satellites Have Taught Us About Earth

Five Things Spy Satellites Have Taught Us About Earth

Every year, commercially available satellite images are getting sharper and better in quality than ever before. In 2008, there were around 150 Earth Observation Satellites in orbit; now, they're around 768. Some companies are even offering the service of live video from space. But, how do we use them to Earth's advantage? How can we predict any calamities which may occur in the future? What more can be found out from this expedition? The United States government launched a spy satellite program called KH-9 Hexagon from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to survey the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Hexagon was part of several missions taken place in the Cold War. This was all back in 1971 and 1986, managed by the U.S intelligence services.

Finally, in 2002, the U.S government declassified all the images taken by the Hexagon. Scientists have been using that since to build upon the research they already collect using satellites and metadata. Scientists have created 3-D landscapes overlapping the images from Hexagon and using them as historical data in their studies.

The images are time capsules showing a time before decades of wildfires and erosion. Here are five things scientists found out from these spy satellites.

1) Himalayan Glaciers are rapidly melting

When glaciers melt, because that water is stored on land, the runoff significantly increases the amount of water in the ocean, contributing to global sea-level rise. Measuring glacial melt requires a tiring, strenuous job. Now scientists have been able to find out the glacier's surface change using the Hexagon's images. The melting is now faster than ever, doubling its rate from 2000.

2) Reindeer Are Losing Herding Ground in Finland

If you thought satellites could only feed information on climate and land mapping and many more. It could also examine living species, that was the specialty about Hexagon. The reindeers have been herding in Finland for a long time, but industries growing today have started to block their habitat, and they are forced into smaller pastures.

Human-caused changes are disrupting the otherwise peaceful life of reindeers. They seem to lose their only source of food in winter, and the number of buildings like reservoirs and many roads endangers them to poaching. Reindeers are now more vulnerable to even the slightest changes in climate and land.

3) Landslides are encroaching on farms in Peru

Scientists took the Hexagon images to their advantage to track local hazards and their cause. They also used SPOT-6 and SPOT-7 commercial satellites for their help. Victor and Siguas valleys have been losing land slowly. By now, it's covered 7% of the valley floor destroying farms and slowly creating menace. The reason for such activity is that there has been an increasing number of large scale agro projects, and these projects are destabilizing the slopes. These landslides are actually over the irrigated farms. However, these can be controlled using a more efficient method of water consumption for irrigation.

4) Seismic Hazards have been uncovered in Easter Iran

Hexagon is helping scientists find climate change and even activity behind living creatures; Well, it also reads seismic data, and scientists are using this data collected back in 1978 to this date. 

Back in 1978, on September 16th, a dormant, tectonic fault arose in eastern Iran. The earthquake had destroyed the town and had killed around 85% of its population. With SPOT-2 and SPOT-6, researchers had previously mapped the horizontal displacements of the ground before and after the earthquake. From these calculations, they guessed that the earthquake would occur about every 3500 years.

5) A Volcano is on the move in Iceland

The rifting of Iceland goes in intervals where the rifting is sometimes slower than the annual average 2.5cm, and sometimes faster, even up to 5cm annually. But on average, it rifts at that speed. These episodes of high rifting normally correspond to Kraflas eruptive cycles.

One of the largest eruptions in Iceland's history was in Krafla in 1975. And it continued to erupt for another nine years. Using images from Hexagon, SPOT-5, and some aerial photos, they could rewind back and see the impact themselves and study the land, the volcano back from 1975. This resulted in the information that the rift has heterogenous rock strength.

As Earth continues to suffer from constant climate change and various other calamities, the images from Hexagon would help the Earth a massive way to the future.