NASA, Japan Release Comprehensive Topographic Map of Earth

The new map shows 99 percent of our planet in greater detail than ever before.


| July 17, 2009



Death Valley, as seen in the new global digital elevation model.

Death Valley, as seen in the new global digital elevation model.

courtesy ASTER/NASA

Washington, D.C. — NASA and Japan recently released a new digital topographic map of Earth that covers more of our planet than ever before. The map was produced with detailed measurements from NASA's Terra spacecraft.

The new global digital elevation model of Earth was created from nearly 1.3 million individual stereo-pair images collected by the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or ASTER, instrument aboard Terra. NASA and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, known as METI, developed the data set. It is available online to users everywhere at no cost.

"This is the most complete, consistent global digital elevation data yet made available to the world," says Woody Turner, ASTER program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This unique global set of data will serve users and researchers from a wide array of disciplines that need elevation and terrain information."

According to Mike Abrams, ASTER science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the new topographic information will be of value throughout the Earth sciences and has many practical applications. "ASTER's accurate topographic data will be used for engineering, energy exploration, conserving natural resources, environmental management, public works design, firefighting, recreation, geology and city planning, to name just a few areas," Abrams says.

Previously, the most complete topographic set of data publicly available was from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. That mission mapped 80 percent of Earth's landmass, between 60 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south. The new ASTER data expands coverage to 99 percent, from 83 degrees north latitude and 83 degrees south. Each elevation measurement point in the new data is 98 feet apart.

The ASTER data fill in many of the voids in the shuttle mission's data, such as in very steep terrains and in some deserts," says Michael Kobrick, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA is working to combine the ASTER data with that of the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and other sources to produce an even better global topographic map."





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