Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Satellites: Make data freely accessible

The cost of accessing satellite data is hampering the widespread application of satellite monitoring, a vital tool for controlling deforestation (Jim Lynch et al. Nature 496, 293–294; 2013) and for biodiversity assessments. We urge government agencies that produce taxpayer-funded satellite images to make these available free of charge and in user-friendly formats.

Lynch and colleagues' call for daily satellite observations of forests worldwide would mean aggregating information from numerous satellites that are operated by many countries. Assembling the large data sets needed for global monitoring would be prohibitively expensive, however, because national governments do not have a free-access policy for their satellite images.

One solution would be to combine data from the US Landsat satellites with those from the European Space Agency's planned Sentinel-2 satellites, which could deliver optical imagery with global coverage every 3–5 days. The distribution of Landsat imagery has increased by two orders of magnitude since 2008, when the US Geological Survey made all the data free to access online. Data from NASA's MODIS and all of their Earth-observation imagery are also available for free, as are data from the China–Brazil Earth Resources Satellite programme.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Woody Turner.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Turner, W. Satellites: Make data freely accessible. Nature 498, 37 (2013).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing