New map developed by DLR locates every human settlement on earth

New map developed by DLR locates every human settlement on earth

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The map features the global urban footprint in Europe.

The map features the global urban footprint in Europe.The Earth Observation Centre (EOC) at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) has developed a landmark global map showing nearly every human settlement on Earth. The project called Global Urban Footprint (GUF), is the worldwide mapping of settlements with unprecedented spatial resolution to a maximum resolution of 12 m, covering even single houses.

Unlike the previous mapping efforts, the satellite-based GUF dataset shows not just the urban centres, but also tiny rural hamlets. The above shown black-on-white map is a portrait of the human presence on Earth in 2012.

To create the GUF map, a total of 180,000 TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X scenes have been processed.

Starting this month, the GUF 2012 dataset is freely available via ESA’s online Urban Thematic Exploitation Platform (U-TEP) at full spatial resolution of 12 m for scientific use, along with an easier to handle 84 m version for any non-profit use.

Global Urban Footprint of Tokio, Cairo and Dehli.
Global Urban Footprint of Tokio, Cairo and Dehli.

“Previously we just weren’t getting all the villages in rural areas,” says Thomas Esch of DLR German Aerospace Center, which produced the map. “But these might be crucial to understanding population distribution or disease vectors, for example, or assessing pressures on biodiversity.

“Such rural settlements are currently still home to almost half of the global population – around three billion people.”

“U-TEP will provide a tremendous service to all of us working with the world’s cities,” comments Ellen Hamilton, Lead Urban Specialist at the World Bank.

Orbiting astronauts find it notably difficult to spot any signs of human habitation with the naked eye – until nightfall, when artificial lights switch on. This GUF 2012 map was made using primarily radar vision because it can detect vertical structures typical of built environments, working on an all-weather basis.

ESA’s U-TEP platform has now been used to process a new auxiliary optical layer for the map based on more than 400 000 Landsat multispectral images. – giving an added dimension of information to users.

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