Agencies unveil 3-D map of Alaska as part of Arctic initiative

The portal is part of a White House project to improve coordination of national efforts in the northernmost climes of the globe.
The new site gives users a sense of the Arctic's topography, sans the sub-zero temperatures. (Noel Bauza via Pixabay)

A new portal lets users experience the staggering landscape of the Arctic — without a jacket.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Science Foundation launched the web application last week that allows visitors to explore 3-D digital elevation models, or DEMs, of some of the world’s most chilly and remote areas. Initially, the portal will only have pictures of Alaska, but it’s scheduled to have models covering the whole Arctic by 2017.

It’s part of the White House’s ArcticDEM project, a push to improve coordination of national efforts in the Arctic.

To come up with the maps, Digital Globe commercial satellites gathered several images of each location from different angles. Researchers processed these images into digital models with elevation values for every 2 meters.


This Arctic digital elevation model image centers on Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport, a public and military airport located 5 miles southwest of the city of Kodiak. The image highlights the rugged relief surrounding the three runways of the airport and clearly depicts vegetation, buildings, coastal features and the drainage network of the area. (NGA)

“The result is a large collection of individual elevation models that can then be compared against each other or fused into a single mosaic,” Peter Becker — imagery product manager at Esri, the geographic information system provider that hosts the site — said in an email.

According to an NGA release, this technology provides “more thorough coverage of the Arctic than did traditional imagery collection by aircraft, which is limited in the inhospitable and remote polar region.”

It also said this project brought together resources from a number of institutions: the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, NGA, NSF, the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota, University of Illinois, Ohio State University, and Cornell University,

In a Medium post announcing the release of the new maps, the White House notes the rapid changes the region faces due to global warming.


“Despite the dramatic threats posed by climate change to communities and the ecosystems upon which they depend, much of Alaska and the Arctic lack modern and reliable topographic maps to help communities understand and manage those risks,” it says.

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