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First high-resolution map of Africa illuminating its breathtaking natural diversity

Read this blog on ESA‘s new high-resolution land cover map of Africa.

Africa, the cradle of humankind from where ancient Homo sapiens originated and then dispersed all across the world, is geographically a very diverse continent and home to many species of flora and fauna. Natural resources and precious mineral reserves are also found in abundance in Africa.

The Dark Continent

Prior to the arrival of European colonizers – who enslaved the African people, fragmented their homes, plundered natural resources, indiscriminately cleared forests for new settlements and subjected the local population to centuries of servitude, robbing them of their identity and perpetrating abhorrent acts of savagery and massacres – Africa was known as ‘Dark Continent’ because it was closed to the outside world and the thick cover of forests and other natural barriers made it almost like an impregnable fortress. The latest innovations and developments that took place in Europe and seeped across Asia, did not take place in Africa.

Voyage to Africa was beset with many risks and only the most dauntless travelers or ruthlessly zealous colonizers undertook it. Wonder what would have been history if they had access to modern mapping technology back then. An intriguing alternative question!

From the world’s largest desert to miles of lush green grasslands

Stretches of the arid and sweltering Sahara desert in North Africa, to lofty Atlas Mountains, to lush Savanna grasslands in east, the Congo basin rain forests in the south west, dense tropical forests of central Africa, and magnificent waterfalls in the south, the marvelous natural beauty of Africa has been portrayed on a high-resolution map by ESA (European Space Agency).

ESA high resolution land cover map of Africa
20 M pixel image of the African continent, captured through Sentinel-2A.

The map has been created using a year of data gathered from Sentinel-2A satellite. And at a resolution of 20 m per pixel, we can explore from Zimbabwe in the South to Morocco in the north, encompassing the diverse landscapes.

Unprecedented feat! The first high-resolution land cover map of Africa

Land cover map breaks the surface of the earth into different types of materials. This information is crucial for analyzing and studying changes in the pattern of land use, modelling climate change and its impacts, conserving biodiversity and managing natural resources.

The map consists of 180 000 Sentinel-2A images that represent 90 terabytes captured between December 2015 and December 2016.

ESA high resolution land cover map of Africa
High resolution satellite image shows the varied geographical features of Africa.

Keeping in mind the size of the map, which is about six gigabytes, a web interface was developed to visualize the data.

The map was developed under ESA’s Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, and users are welcome to provide their valuable feedback on the new map through an online form.

Frédéric Achard from the Joint Research Centre, said “The prototype high-resolution land cover map at 20m over Africa is an impressive demonstration of the Sentinel-2A data availability and of the present capabilities for the processing of such huge volumes of data”

ESA high resolution land cover map of Africa
High resolution focus on tree cover, grasslands and croplands.

He is also of the opinion that “The community dealing with land resources in Africa will surely look forward with great interest to this prototype and to its future development.”

The first scampering steps and the big leap

ESA is coordinating global land cover maps since 2002 through its GlobCover and CCI Land Cover projects at a resolution of 300 m. While the latest map of Africa is based on observations from one of the twin Sentinel-2 satellites, the launch of Sentinel-2B in March has put the possibility of a global map at 10 m within reach.

ESA high resolution
View of the earths surface from Sentinel-2A satellite

The Sentinel-2 satellites offer color vision for Europe’s Copernicus programme. They each carry a multispectral imager with 13 spectral bands that can be used for agricultural and forestry practices and for assisting in managing food security. Satellite images can also be used to determine various plant indices such as leaf area chlorophyll and water content.