Highly Detailed Map of Earth’s Terrain Released for Download

The most complete map of the Earth’s terrain, showing highly detailed elevations for more than nine tenths of the planet’s surface, has been released for free public use.


Global Map Image: In this colorized version, low elevations are purple, medium elevations are greens and yellows, and high elevations are orange, red and white.

NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and industry (METI) released the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) Global Digital Elevation Model (GDEM) to the worldwide public yesterday.

1,300,000 Images

The GDEM was created by processing and stereo-correlating 1,300,000 optical images, covering Earth’s land surface between 83 degrees North and 83 degrees South latitudes, according to a news statement about the map.

The GDEM is produced with 30-meter (98-feet) postings, and is formatted as 23,000 one-by-one-degree tiles. It is available for download from NASA’s Earth Observing System data archive and Japan’s Ground Data System.


Los Angeles Basin Image: The Los Angeles Basin is bordered on the north by the San Gabriel Mountains. Other smaller basins are separated by smaller mountain ranges, like the Verdugo Hills, and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Death Valley-image.jpg

Death Valley Image: Death Valley, California, has the lowest point in North America, Badwater at 85.5 meters (282 feet) below sea level. It is also the driest and hottest location in North America.

Located in eastern California and western Nevada, Death Valley forms part of Death Valley National Park. The region is characterized by deep valleys and high mountain ranges, located in the large Basin and Range province of the western United States. This view looks towards the northwest.

Furnace Creek ranch in the right foreground is the only place on the valley floor where vegetation grows year-round due to water channeled through Furnace Creek.


Himalayan Glaciers in Bhutan Image: In the Bhutan Himalayas, Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer data have revealed significant spatial variability in glacier flow, such that the glacier velocities in the end zones on the south side exhibit significantly lower velocities (9 to 18 meters, or 30 to 60 feet per year), versus much higher flow velocities on the north side (18 to 183 meters, or 60 to 600 feet per year).

The higher velocity for the northern glaciers suggests that the southern glaciers have substantially stagnated ice. This view looks towards the northwest.

All images and captions courtesy NASA/METI

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn