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The dark side of Earth observation

Earth Observation (EO) satellites have transformed understanding of the state and trajectories of Earth’s environment. Recent mushrooming of EO satellites and of resultant data that are stored, distributed and processed, often on the cloud, generate widespread environmental impacts that demand urgent consideration, particularly given that EO data outlive EO satellites.

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Fig. 1: EO activities are rapidly increasing, with a growing commercial sector dominance.
Fig. 2


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We are grateful for support from the University of Exeter Open Innovation Platform, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

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Authors and Affiliations



K.A. conceived the idea during collaborative discussions with K.J.G., X.Y., R.J.W.B., M.M. and J.D.S. K.A. drafted the manuscript and summarized the analyses performed by M.M.M. and R.W. K.A. led the editing of the final piece. R.J.W.B. and M.M.M. contributed ideas relating to remote sensing and edited the manuscript with the other authors. M.M.M. performed literature searches, drew the figures and estimated the size of global EO data holdings. M.M. contributed ideas relating to data centres and sustainable computing and edited the manuscript with the other authors. J.D.S. contributed ideas relating to remote sensing and sustainable computing and edited the manuscript with the other authors. R.W. performed literature searches, mining EO reports and websites for information. X.Y. contributed ideas relating to EO life-cycle analysis and edited the manuscript with the other authors. K.J.G. contributed various ideas across the whole piece and provided major input to the writing and editing of the piece.

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Correspondence to Karen Anderson.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Jeffery Greenblatt and Loïc Lannelongue for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Anderson, K., Brewin, R.J.W., Mleczko, M.M. et al. The dark side of Earth observation. Nat Sustain 7, 224–227 (2024).

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