The Private Impact of Public Maps: Landsat Satellite Imagery and Gold Exploration

Abhishek Nagaraj (UC Berkeley-Haas)

Abstract: Governments routinely invest in large-scale, scientific projects that provide basic knowledge about natural phenomena and yet the economic-value of these initiatives remains unexamined. To make progress on this topic, this study estimates the impact of Landsat, a NASA satellite-mapping program, on shaping the discovery of new deposits in the gold exploration industry. Exploiting idiosyncratic timing variation in mapping coverage, I find that information from Landsat nearly doubled the rate of significant gold discoveries, especially from junior firms and in regions with strong local institutions. The public provision of basic knowledge seems to be an important determinant of local industry performance.