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NCSA to help build world’s most powerful geospatial system

NCSA has announced a new collaboration between the Blue Waters Project, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the University of Minnesota, and The Ohio State University to produce digital elevation models (DEM) of the entire Earth, among other geospatial research projects.

The collaboration, which is proceeding with an initial $11.1 million in funding from the NGA through the National Science Foundation (NSF) for one year, will make Blue Waters the most powerful dedicated, non-classified geospatial system in the world, capable of bringing unprecedented speed and efficiency to global mapping, and fundamentally changing the way humans view the Earth. This collaboration will be a continuation of the existing Blue Waters machine and will leverage the Blue Waters Project’s domain expertise in optimizing workflows, applications, and complex data analysis, The Ohio State University’s programming domain expertise, and the University of Minnesota’s data flow domain expertise.

The first major project between the NGA and NCSA will be EarthDEM, a follow-up to the very successful ArcticDEM project, which was conducted on Blue Waters by the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota. Now, with the help of Blue Waters and the NGA, EarthDEM seeks to apply the same mapping and data processing techniques to the rest of the Earth, producing planet-wide DEM data sets. Once completed, these elevation models will be available to the public and have applications in areas that directly benefit society, from community planning to water resources, landslide, and seismic activity assessments.

EarthDEM and the data processed on Blue Waters will allow researchers a path to assess various research areas where major geological changes are occurring, no matter how remote the region, but what’s more, it will begin to create an ecosystem where geospatial modeling can be done quickly, efficiently and repeatedly.

ArcticDEM was spurred by a 2015 Presidential Executive Order, bringing together researchers from The Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota. They used Blue Waters to interpret over 187,000 satellite images, ultimately taking these raw data, processing them, and producing the first-ever publicly available high-resolution digital elevation models of the entire Arctic. Furthermore, this collaboration expanded on ArcticDEM by performing the same process in the Antarctic, resulting in Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA), also publicly available.

In turn, this research has allowed scientists to accurately track changes in the Arctic and Antarctic landscape and environment, which helps to quantify a changing landscape in one of the most remote and scientifically-impactful regions of Earth.

Because of the importance and utility of these data sets, this new collaboration seeks to build and refine the pipeline for producing digital elevation models, leveraging different skills to greatly cut down on the time and cost to produce this impactful data.