US: A landmark decision to allow free access to key earth observation data has failed to impact Africa because of poor Internet connectivity, said researchers. The US Geological Survey (USGS) took the decision to allow free access to Landsat Earth observation satellite data in January 2008 – a deal that opened up nearly 40 years of images, or ‘scenes’. The data can be used to monitor changes to the land, such as the effects of climate change on crops, or urbanisation.
But a review of Africa’s uptake of the data, published online as a letter to Remote Sensing Letters last month (23 February), has found the lack of Internet connectivity between the United States and Africa to be a fundamental and serious obstacle. It also found lack of education in remote sensing, poor awareness of how the data could be used and who could use it and insufficient infrastructure and capacity within countries to allow good use of the data.
“The issue of poor Internet access presents a fundamental and serious current constraint in Africa where the majority of countries have limited internet capability,” said the authors of the letter, led by David Roy, a remote sensing specialist at South Dakota State University in the United States.
Connections within African countries are on average little more than 256 kilobytes per second, which makes downloading a 250 megabyte Landsat scene difficult. Data from other satellites is easier to access as it can be downloaded directly to satellite receiving stations in Africa as the satellites pass overhead. But there are not Landsat receiving stations in Sub-Saharan Africa as they are prohibitively expensive to build, according to Mbow, a co-author of the paper.
Authors suggest that undersea cables and terrestrial links would solve the issue. But problems of establishing networks within countries and African government regulation may continue to restrict Internet access across the continent.
Source: All Africa