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High-resolution SRTM elevation data to be released globally

October 12, 2014 1 comment
Comparing SRTM data resolutions

Comparing SRTM data spatial resolution:  90 meters on the left, 30 meters on the right.

High-resolution elevation data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission-Level 2 (SRTM-2), previously only available for the USA, will be made publicly available over the next 12 months, the White House announced recently at the United Nations Heads of State Climate Summit. The first elevation data set to be released will be over the African continent and is available on the United States Geological Survey’s Earth Explorer website, by choosing the “SRTM 1 Arc-Second Global” data set, with future regions to be released within the coming year.

“I look forward to the broader impact that the release will have on the global scientific and capacity building community,” said National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Letitia Long.  Until now, SRTM data was only publicly available at a lower 90-meter resolution (see above image). The newly-released global 30-meter SRTM-2 dataset will be used worldwide to improve environmental monitoring, climate change research including sea-level rise impact assessments, and local decision support, the White House said.

The SRTM mission began in 2000 as a venture between NASA and NGA that used a modified radar system on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour to acquire elevation data for over 80% of the Earth’s land mass. The Department of Defense and intelligence community continues to use this topographic data for multiple applications – from developing navigation tools and supporting military operations, to geological and environmental purposes.  In August 2014, Long authorized the removal of the Limited Distribution caveat from the SRTM-2 dataset, making it available to the public on a phased-release schedule. The 30-meter topographic dataset was then sent to USGS for public distribution.

When I heard Shuttle pilot Dom Gorie speak about his work with the SRTM at a GIS conference about 10 years ago, it was one of the most memorable keynote addresses I have ever heard.  I look forward to investigating this new data set and the delivery mechanism.  Keep an eye on this blog for further updates.