Visual Earth Observations (OBS)

Galapagos Islands Rhone River Delta of France Ebro River Delta of Spain Houston, Texas


This investigation was designed to document environmental changes and dynamic processes on the Earth's surface like flooding and droughts, urban growth and landuse changes around the world, events related to El Niño, and transient features like tropical storms, large fires and volcanic eruptions. These observation data will then be assimilated, and the imagery included in a database that includes more than 30 years of Earth photographs taken by astronauts and cosmonauts. Another objective was to use an operational environment to develop approach and tools for ISS-based Earth observations.

Shuttle-Mir Missions

The experiment design for Visual Earth Observations was simple: provide a Hasselblad 70 mm camera (equiped with 100 and 250 mm lenses) and ample film to the crew, a list of sites on the Earth's surface, and request photography of the sites when conditions allow. A key component of this expeirment was crew initiative. Each week, a list of selected sites was sent to the crew. Site selection was based on longer-term planning of known regions of interest, and near-term replanning based on current events, weather patterns, trajectory and attitude information. The crewmembers then used this list as a guideline when Earth observations were obtained.

The NASA-Mir missions returned more than 22,000 images of the Earth's surface, taken between March, 1996 and June, 1998. They images have been fully catalogued and added to the Ofiice of Earth Sciences database (

Specific Mission Results/Highlights

NASA-2: Photos of out-of-control forest fires on the Mongolian Steppes in April 1996; drying reservoirs in the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico during sever drought in western North America; baseline conditions before 1997-98 El Niño

NASA-3: Massive flooding in the lower Nile, continued drought in southern Africa, spring thaw in the southern Andes; baseline conditions before 1997-98 El Niño.

NASA-4: Snow and ice cover over the northern U.S. and Canada, sea ice breakup in Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Ohio-Mississippi River floods (March 1997), widespread forest fires in far-eastern Asia (Mongolia, China and Russia) in late April and early May, and detailed imagery of western European river systems (Garonne, Loire, Rhone, Rhine, Danube).

NASA-5: Key atmospheric dynamics related to the developing 1997 El Niño event (thick smoke and haze over South America and Africa).

NASA-6: Continued El Niño observations from September, 1997 through January, 1998, including smoke and haze over Sumatra and New Guinea, dropping lake levels in the high Andes, and key photographs of the unusually lush coast of Somalia after floods.

NASA-7: Continued documentation of El Niño impacts: drought conditions in the central Andes and northeastern South America and Australia, photos of lush vegetation in California, fires and extensive smoke palls in Central America and diminished ice cover in the northeastern U.S.

Earth Benefits
The imagery obtained in the NASA-Mir program has special significance by way of recording the baseline conditions leading up to the 1997 record-breaking El Niño. For the first time, a global picture was obtained of pre and post El Niño conditions . Other observations allowed for a significant refinement on the scale and frequency of a variety of dynamic phenomena like smoke, dust and smog. The global perspective for these events augments ground-based observations and allows new boundaries to be drawn around these events. These data were used in models on atmospheric forcing, material transport, landuse changes and recovery, and became part of the 1996-1997 baseline data for validating global landcover.

None available at this time.

Principal Investigators
Cynthia Evans, Ph.D.
NASA/Johnson Space Center

Lev Desinov, Ph.D.
Russian Academy of Sciences

Kamlesh Lulla, Ph.D.
David L. Amsbury, Ph.D.
M. Justin Wilkinson, Ph.D.
Julie Robinson, Ph.D.
Patricia Dickerson, Ph.D.
Joe Caruana
Kim Willis

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Page last updated: 07/16/1999