NASA Updates Topographic Maps

NASA has teamed with Japan’s Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Center to create a new topographic map covering 99% of the Earth’s landmass.  The maps are created using two sets of data from Japan’s ASTER sensor which are slightly offset from one another.  Merging the data creates a 3D look like Google Earth’s topographic display.  The elevation measurements are 30 meters apart.  The real benefit here is that it’s the first global elevation model and it’s freely available for anyone in the world to use.  Furthermore, since it’s using the existing ASTER sensor, new models can be built often, which allows for significant change detection from year to year.  That’s especially important in areas like West Virginia, where mining techniques can have a significant impact on the topography.  Watch the video at the link for more information and some great visuals!

Via Gizmodo

National Parks From Space

Wired has a beautiful article highlighting the views of US National Parks as seen from space.  The views are simply breathtaking.  I think a lot of people in the US forget our National Park system features some truly majestic and amazing places on the Earth.  Looking at them from space gives a whole new appreciation of their wonder, if you ask me.  Furthermore, it highlights how critical remote sensing is to our modern existence.  Having this type of data available isn’t just beautiful, it’s important for understanding how our land changes over time.

Each entry features a little background on the park and a couple of views from various sources.  The vast majority of the data comes from NASA’s Earth Observatory site.  There are a number of GeoEye images and one from the University of Maryland’s Global Land Cover Facility as well.

Storm Tracks Move Toward The Poles

Climate models have predicted this for years, but it’s never been observed… until now. Ars Technica discusses the issue in brief. For the non-physical geographers out there (of which I count myself), storm tracks are the mid-latitude storm patterns that bring most of the precipitation to the heavy population centers in the world. As the climate changes, these storm tracks should gravitate to the poles. Scientists have been using data from The International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project to attempt to track the movement of storm tracks. They note lots of issues with the data, but repeated sampling and analysis methods have shown a clear trend – the tracks are moving as predicted. On top of that, apparently we’ve lost 2-3% of our total cloud cover worldwide!

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? It seems to me that the issues with the data combined with the need to track this stuff in a more comprehensive and accessible way point to one major conclusion – we need more satellites to get more accurate and timelier data. It really doesn’t matter where you fall on the climate change issue. Better information can only lead to a more informed scientific community and public, which is always a good thing.

ESRI UC 2011 – Jeff’s First Exposition Hall Tour

On Tuesday at the ESRI UC I spent the majority of my day wandering through the many tables and displays set up in the exposition hall.   At first I was overwhelmed by the size of the exhibition hall and the number of exhibitors but as I walked through the displays I became impressed with the number of ingenious ways that society makes use of GIS.

ESRI had a fantastic set up this year with their showcase featuring workstations set up to help with specific skill sets or applications regarding ArcGIS.  Each station was staffed with knowledgeable assistants to help with your questions or comments.  I stopped by the Training and Certification to inquire about ESRI’s new technical certification program.  If you haven’t checked it out lately you should as large changes from their past instructor certification program have taken place.

Finally, I got the urge to enter drawings that many of the vendors were offering.  One such company was offering a large remote controlled helicopter and I couldn’t resist.  That entry led to a conversation with Bill Emison of Merrick & Company.  Bill informed me that Merrick & Company were demonstrating Lidar processing software and gave me the tour of their product Merrick Advanced Remote Sensing Software (MARS).

All I can say is wow! The software processes millions of points super fast!  After my whiplash settled down, Bill showed me some of the software’s capabilities in generating different GIS friendly formats, generating TIN surfaces, classification tools, and filtering abilities.  Merrick & Company provides a free viewer and a 30 day evaluation of the full viewer.  Definitely worth checking out if you make heavy use of Lidar data especially since it exports to so many usable formats.

BBC talks about CryoSat

With the roll out of Cryosat’s first sea-ice map the BBC has posted (reposted?) an interview between Jonathan Amos, Science writer with BBC (does a lot of the space topics) and Dr Katherine Giles about how Cryosat works…which most of you already know, but it is a great description for a broad audience. Take a listen:

Spatial mapping and fish

The R2 Fish School Kit that has been featured on TV shows like ABC News and Animal Planet teaches your fish to play basketball, fetch, and more. It was developed by Dr. Dean Pomerleau and his son Kyle. Their goldfish “Albert Einstein” is the current Guinness World Record holder for the pet fish with the most tricks. These aren’t just parlor tricks, researchers like Dr. Pomerleau have been studying fish intelligence, especially spatial intelligence for a long time.

A study by Seraphina Chung, of the Department of Human Biology, University of Toronto examined the use of different type of mazes to better understand the use of spatial learning by fish in their daily life. Other companies, such as FishBio use different spatial technologies like remote sensing, sensors, and 3-D side-scanning sonar to GPS fish habitats and migration routes.

If you are interested in learning more about fish intelligence and considering the amazing spatial ability of migrating fish, spring is a great time to participate in a citizen science fish count. The Town of Plymouth, Maine Environmental Resources and many others have already started participation in fish counts. If it is too late to do it now in your area, you can mark your calendar for next year.

Where on Earth?

I just played a fun online game called, “Where on Earth” by Point 2 Explore.com which was developed for educational museums and science centers. It shows landmarks from across the globe using NASA satellite photos and a player has three guesses of the location. If you have ever attended any geo-spatial related conferences, it is a computer version of the raffles they often hold to see who can guess the location of printed satellite imagery.

Other fun remote sensing games online include several from NASA such as the adventures of Amelia the Pigeon and Echo the Bat and an older short one called “LandSat Game” from an extensive remote sensing tutorial.