The World Upside Down; NSF HPC produces the topography of the Earth

Paul Morrin
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

It has been a dream in the Earth Sciences to have uniform quality, high-resolution topography of the planet. Over the course of history we have measured it from the ground with theodolites, in the sky with aircraft, and even from orbit with NASA’s shuttle mission. A collaboration between NSF funded investigators and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is now producing digital topography using a constellation of orbiting optical telescopes, NSF High Performance Computing (HPC), and open source software. The product is a time-stamped, continuously produced, publicly available dataset with a resolution of 2m, an accuracy of 1m, and a precision of 50cm. For the first time, we have better topography of the ice on earth than the land on earth, and because it is continuously collected we can accurately measure change in volume when ice melts, trees are cut down, or a hole is dug. The challenge now consists of throughput, optimization, and production. Never before have we had such high-quality topography of almost everywhere.

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