Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cloud free base map image from MapBox

Cloud free, near real time, seamlessly integrated scenes of imagery acquired by various satellites orbiting the Earth is a holy grail of remote sensing community. However, achieving this result is not a trivial task due to volume of data and computational capacity required to process it. So, for now, we only have one-off attempts to create such mosaic with lower resolution imagery.

You may be well familiar with Blue Marble seasonal mosaics of MODIS imagery (~500m resolution) that appeared on many versions of online maps but the latest version created by MapBox is a great improvement on the previous, dated by now version, which deserve a mention.

The goal was to make the most beautiful image of an idealized, cloudless planet, “trapped in eternal summer”. As described by the creator, “It’s a completely natural product. Every pixel is a real pixel captured by a camera in the sky. But it’s also completely synthetic.”

You can preview the entire globe of cloud free imagery on MapBox’s tour page and the whole process of generating that image was well explained in Wired article in 2013.

Now the race is on to produce a higher resolution version (possibly based on Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 data) as well as to utilise all the possible band combinations to extract information, in near-real time, on glaciers, wildfires, crops, droughts and floods, cities and forests, surface temperature, plankton blooms, seasonal dynamics, smog, and myriad of other earth surface, near surface and shallow water objects. And most importantly – observe changes over time.

It is interesting to note that, yet again, innovation is driven by a relative newcomer to the spatial industry. As I pointed out in my 2013 end of year reflection, this is a very common pattern in the last couple of decades, where “old hands” just can’t recognise all the opportunities that technological advancement and computational capacity bring to this industry, and it takes outsiders to “spot the obvious”.

MapBox is definitely one of the more innovative companies that emerged in recent years and is worth watching - we can all learn from their fresh approach to old problems…

Related Posts:
New approach to satellite imagery analysis
Landsat 8 data explained
Google unlocks Landsat archives
Free high resolution imagery

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