NASA releases 99% complete topographic map of Earth

Washington, D.C. – NASA and the Japanese government have published what is claimed to be the most complete topographic map of our planet yet. The new data cover 99% of Earth, up from about 80% available before. Each data set measured Earth at a distance of just 98 feet apart, which creates the foundation for stunning images that are provided free of charge.

NASA’s topographic map (4 pictures)

The new global elevation model, released by NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), has been created from 1.3 million individual stereo-pair images taken by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft.  

The image data is expected to appeal especially to scientists and engineers working in topic areas such as engineering, energy exploration, conserving natural resources, environmental management, public works design, firefighting, recreation, geology and city planning. However, any user will have free access to the data, which shows global elevation imagery in more detail than ever before. At the time of this writing, the access was restricted, due to an apparently high volume of download requests.

Previously, the most complete topographic set of data publicly available was from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, NASA said. That mission mapped 80% of Earth’s landmass, between 60 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south. The new ASTER data covers 99% of the landmass, from 83 degrees north latitude and 83 degrees south. According to NASA, each elevation measurement point in the new data is just 98 feet apart.
The ASTER data is expected to fill in many of the voids in the shuttle mission’s data, such as in very steep terrains and in some deserts,” said 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.”

ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched on Terra in December 1999. ASTER acquires images from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region, with spatial resolutions ranging from about 50 to 300 feet.

A joint science team from the U.S. and Japan validates and calibrates the instrument and data products. The U.S. science team is located at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.