1. Learn
  2. Data Pathfinders
  3. Sustainable Development Goals Data Pathfinders

Sustainable Development Goals Data Pathfinders

About- Sustainable Development Goals Image (7/10/20)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an international framework signed by all United Nations (U.N.) member states in 2015, outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), with associated targets and indicators. The vision of the SDG framework encourages every country to assume responsibility for planning and providing better outcomes for future generations, leaving no one behind.

Earth observations are an essential source of information in the implementation of solutions and in monitoring progress on meeting the SDGs. Earth observations (from satellite, airborne, and in-situ sensors) provide accurate and reliable information on the state of the atmosphere, ocean, ecosystems, natural resources, and built infrastructure along with their change over time. All remote sensing data provided by NASA, and most data from other agencies' Earth-observing satellites, are freely and openly available to all data users, which can reduce the cost of monitoring the SDGs and provides developing countries a means to acquire and utilize these data for other policy-making purposes.

Many NASA missions collect data that provide spatial, spectral, and temporal information that can be processed and transformed into variables or high-level products that are useful to produce SDG indicators, support SDG monitoring and implementation, and evaluate progress toward achieving sustainable development.

Each Goal below highlights NASA Earth observation data that can aid in calculating indicators and monitoring progress towards achieving SDG Goals and Targets.

About the Data

About the Data

NASA collaborates with other federal entities and international space organizations, including USGS; the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI); and the European Space Agency (ESA), to provide information for understanding a number of phenomena that can be used in monitoring progress towards meeting key indicators within the SDG framework.

The accuracy of NASA's Earth science data products has been assessed over a widely distributed set of locations and time periods via several ground-truth and validation efforts. For more information on this process, please see NASA's data maturity levels.

Datasets referenced in this Pathfinder are from satellite and airborne sensors shown in the table below, including their spatial and temporal resolutions. Note that many satellites/platforms carry multiple sensors; the table below only lists the primary sensor used in collecting the specified measurement. When available, NASA's Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) provides data to the public generally within three hours of satellite overpass, which allows for near real-time (NRT) monitoring and decision making. Sensors from which select datasets are available in LANCE are marked with an asterisk (*).

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of datasets but rather only includes datasets from NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). km = kilometer; m = meter

Measurement Satellite/Platform Sensor Spatial Resolution Temporal Resolution
Aerosol Index NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) 50 km x 50 km 101 minutes, daily
Aerosol Index ESA Sentinel-5P TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) 7 km x 3.5 km daily
Aerosol Optical Depth Aura Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) 13 km x 24 km daily
Aerosol Optical Depth, Evapotranspiration, Gross Primary Productivity, Land Cover, Land Surface Temperature, Snow Cover, Surface Reflectance, Vegetation Indices Terra and Aqua Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) * 250 m, 500 m, 1000 m 1 to 2 days
Aerosol Optical Depth, Land Surface Temperature, Surface Reflectance, Vegetation Indices NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) NOAA-20 and Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellites Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) * 500 m, 1000 m, 5600 m daily
Evaporative Stress Index, Evapotranspiration, Land Surface Temperature, Water Use Efficiency International Space Station
Note: data are available in areas of 51.6° S to 51.6° N
Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) 70 m ~ 1-7 days
Land Surface Backscatter JAXA/METI Advanced Land Observing Satellite-1 (ALOS) Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) 10 m, 100 m
Groundwater NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and GRACE Follow-On (GRACE-FO) Star Camera Assembly (SCA), K-Band Ranging System (KBR), and SuperSTAR Accelerometer (ACC) 0.5° 1 month
Land Surface Backscatter ESA Sentinel-1 and -2 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) 25 x 40 m, 5 x 5 m, and 5 x 20 m 12 days (using together 6 days)
Land Surface Backscatter Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle
Note: data are available over specific areas
SAR 1.8 m Non-cyclic
Land Surface Temperature, Surface Reflectance Terra Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) 15 m Very Near Infrared (VNIR), 30 m Short-Wave Infrared (SWIR), 90 m Thermal Infrared (TIR) Variable
Precipitation Integrated multi-satellite data TRMM Multi-satellite Precipitation Algorithm (TMPA) and Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) 0.1° x 0.1° or 0.25° x 0.25° half hourly, daily, monthly
Snow Water Equivalent Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency Global Change Observation Mission -Water Satellite 1 ("Shizuku"), (GCOM-W1) Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) * 25 km daily, 5-day, monthly
Snow Water Equivalent Aqua Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer - Earth Observing System (AMSR-E)
(Data only available through 2011)
25 km daily, 5-day, monthly
Soil Moisture Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Radar (active) - no longer functional
Microwave radiometer (passive)
9 km, 36 km 1 day
Surface Reflectance NASA/USGS Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI)
Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS)
15 m, 30 m, 60 m 16 days
Surface Reflectance NASA/USGS Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) 15 m, 30 m, 60 m 16 days

* sensors from which select datasets are available in LANCE

Back to Top

Use the Data

Use the Data
Electrification analysis for 2018 around Lake Victoria. The map was created using processed nighttime light data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite, incorporated with land cover type data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and overlaid with different gridded population products. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Electrification analysis for 2018 around Lake Victoria. The map was created using processed nighttime light data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite, incorporated with land cover type data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and overlaid with different gridded population products. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Scientists, researchers, emergency managers, decision makers, and others use remote sensing data in numerous ways. Remote sensing data, coupled with ground-based data, aids in assessing the progress towards meeting SDGs.



SDG 2, Zero Hunger:

SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation:

SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities:

SDG 15, Life On Land:

Back to Top

Benefits and Limitations of Remote Sensing Data

Benefits and Limitations of Remote Sensing Data

In determining whether or not to use remote sensing data, it is important to understand not only the benefits but also the limitations of the data. Benefits of using satellite data include:

  • Filling in data gaps: The United States is fortunate to have numerous ground-based measurements for assessing water storage, precipitation, and more. However, this is not the case in other countries and even in some of the more remote areas of the U.S. Satellite data provide local, regional, and global spatial coverage and are also useful for observing areas that are inaccessible.
  • Monitoring in near-real time: Some satellite information is available 3-5 hours after observation, allowing for a faster response. NASA's LANCE supports users interested in monitoring a wide variety of natural and human-created phenomena in a timely manner.

With satellite data, assessments can be made regarding the land surface, precipitation events, ground movement and air temperature. In addition, incorporating satellite data with in-situ data into modeling programs makes for a more robust and integrated forecasting system. When using data and imagery from satellite-borne sensors, it's important to use the right sensor for the spatial, temporal, and spectral resolutions you are seeking:

  • Spatial resolution: While lower resolution data provide a more global view, as with measurements from the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, the spatial resolution is too coarse for certain assessments. This is not the case for higher resolution instruments, like those on the joint NASA/USGS Landsat series of satellites.
  • Temporal resolution: Many satellites only pass over the same spot on Earth every 1-2 days and sometimes as seldom as every 16+ days. This is the satellite's return period.
  • Spectral resolution: Passive instruments (those that use energy being reflected or emitted from Earth for measurements) are not able to penetrate cloud or vegetation cover, which can lead to data gaps or a decrease in data utility. This is not the case when using data from microwave or thermal sensors (active sensors).

It is difficult to combine all of the desirable features into one remote sensor; to acquire observations with moderate to high spatial resolution (like Landsat) a narrower swath is required, which in turn requires more time between observations of a given area resulting in a lower temporal resolution. Researchers have to make trade-offs. Finding a sensor with the spatiotemporal resolution capable of addressing your research, application, or decision-making process needs is a crucial first step to getting started with using remote sensing data.

Back to Top

Please visit the Earthdata Forum, where you can interact with other users and NASA subject matter experts on a variety of Earth science research and applications topics.

Published April 5, 2021

Page Last Updated: Jan 19, 2022 at 3:52 PM EST