Japanese scientists design most complete digital map of Earth

10/25/2011
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This is an illustration of the type of topographical map that ASTER produces.

TOKYO (majirox news) — Japanese scientists working with NASA have completed the most comprehensive digital map of Earth.

It is a major update on the first version of the map completed by Japan’s Remote Sensing Center in 2009, using images collected by the Japanese Advanced Space Borne Thermal and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) part of the NASA satellite.

Stripped of all the scientific terminology this map is a fascinating three-dimension view of almost every spot on the face of the earth. Stereo images that have been taken slightly offset are merged to create the three-dimensional illusion of depth.

“The Aster global digital elevation model was already the most complete, consistent global topographical map in the world,” said Woody Turner, who heads the ASTER program at NASA in Washington D.C. “This updated version of the ASTER global digital model provides users with the highest resolution global topographical data available.”

The improved version of the map adds 260,000 additional stereo images that cover previously un-imaged parts of the earth, and it’s also being done with highly improved resolution that gives a much better feeling for horizontal and vertical accuracy. And the best about it is that it is available to online users at no cost.

The Japanese built and designed ASTER system was propelled into outer space in 1999 on the NASA Terra satellite. It includes a wide variety of observation instruments, ranging from visual to thermal infrared ray technologies that can not only carry out mapping but also monitor and forecast global environmental changes.

With resolution ranging from 50 to 300 feet (15 to 90 meters) it can map the world and follow environmental changes using a grid that places each data elevation measure point about 30 meters (98 feet) apart.

“This data can be used for a broad range of applications, from planning highways and protecting land with cultural or environmental significance to searching for natural resources,” says Mike Abrams who heads the NASA team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

ASTER data covers about 99 percent of the earth’s landmass and through the Japan Remote Sensing Center is linked to the World Meteorological Organization for use on their Global Observation system to track environmental changes.

Japan’s Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Center (ERSDAC), which is mainly responsible for collecting and collating the data, is located in Tokyo and is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

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