DE Transitions (Nov. 2014 - Jan. 2015)


This summary presents a snapshot of Digital Earth as it constantly evolves as described through a number of recent publications. A paper titled “How soon until we see a seamless high-resolution Digital Earth?” brings insights into the challenges of DE platforms. Further discussed is the idea that data and information standards should always be carefully considered and designed, from the beginning of a project. Some interesting numbers from selected Digital Earth practices, e.g., 30 m & 30 cm, 15 years & 15 hours, show that Earth observation is advancing with long-term or high-frequency data models. Science and art conspire in inspiring people, with maps designed to reveal statistics and spatial patterns. Crowdsourcing makes people not only the data user, but also the data creator and provider. Everyone can contribute efforts to digitize a book or journal, making Earth even more of a Digital Earth.


Big geospatial data is shifting Digital Earth. It also brings new challenges. A talk by Matt Ball recently revealed three big challenges (or potentials) for the existing Digital Earth platform: bandwidth of the Internet, open data, and a more robust and immersive visualization platform [1]. Furthermore, standards for data and information should also be considered, as a fundamental support to solve these problems. OGC, ISO, and other organization are the pioneers for standards creation and publication, and to some extent, the official voices. They are working on standards for Earth observation metadata profiles and geo-information management [2] [3], intended to provide schema for encoding Earth observation data and information products to support the description and cataloguing of products acquired by sensors aboard EO satellites.

30 m & 30 cm

Earth observation coupled with advancing technology never stops moving forward, either in competing on higher resolution remote sensing images or EO data sharing. Topographic data with 30-m resolution generated from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) will be open and released globally to better understand natural processes that shape our planet, prepare for and respond to natural hazards, and anticipate and prepare for the impacts of global change [4]. On the other hand, 30-cm resolution data from commercial satellites assure fast and precise mapping of various features almost anywhere in the world on a frequent basis [5].

15 years & 15 hours

A new system, designed to quantify 15 years of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, uses the information from space-based nighttime lights, national statistics on fuel use, and a database on power plants to create high-resolution planetary maps of CO2 emissions broken down by hour, year, and region at the international level [6]. Meteorologists made a new weather data model facilitated with high computing capacity, aiming to improve forecasts and warnings for weather events. The model is coupled with higher detail, more frequent radar input and an advanced representation of clouds and winds, running in high resolution every hour using the most recent observations with forecasts extending out 15 hours [7].

Something fun

Geographers and designers worked together and made a book of data maps of London—not an atlas but instead a series of data portraits. It reveals a city heaving with information illustrated with design and art for a digital city. The data, most of them coupled with locations, includes renting allocation, daily commutes, ethnicity, and even football clubs by popularity on Twitter [8]. The book helps to provide a new way to know statistics and location information, not only for the residents but also for decision makers. People are not only the data user, but also the data creator and provider. A pilot project is using crowdsourcing to make digital collections of handwritten journals or historical materials, which is difficult for character-recognition software to translate [9]. The project transcribes journals into a searchable digital format, and creates video games for the more-exacting task of checking those transcriptions for accuracy. These make me hope for more fun in a new Digital Earth.

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[1] How soon until we see a seamless high-resolution Digital Earth?

[2] OGC helps develop UN’s geospatial standards guide for UN Member States

[3] OGC seeks public comment on the Earth Observation Metadata profile of the OGC Observations & Measurements Standard

[4] U.S. Releases Enhanced Shuttle Land Elevation Data

[5] DigitalGlobe Unveils 30 cm Imagery from WorldView-3

[6] Study Maps 15 years of Carbon Dioxide Emissions on Earth

[7] NOAA's Weather Forecasts Go Hyper Local with Next-Generation Weather Model

[8] 12 data maps that sum up London

[9] Crowdsourcing old journals