Research Highlights: March 2018

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Mapping the Global Urban Fabric in Unprecedented Detail

Eric Brown de Colstoun1, Chengquan Huang2, Panshi Wang2, James Tilton3, Bin Tan4, 6, Jacqueline Phillips1, 5, Pui-Yu Ling2, Sarah Niemczura1, 5, and Robert Wolfe6

(1: Biospheric Sciences Lab NASA GSFC, 2: Dept. of Geographical Sciences Univ. of Maryland, 3: Computational and Information Sciences and Technology Office NASA GSFC, 4: Science Systems and Applications Inc., 5: Universities Space Research Association, 6: Terrestrial Information Systems Lab NASA GSFC)

Figure 1
Two new high resolution data sets of global urbanization have been released through NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC).The Global Man-made Impervious Surface (GMIS) and the Human Built-up And Settlement Extent (HBASE) companion data sets are the first global, 30m spatial resolution data sets of their kind using the 2010 Global Land Survey (GLS) free Landsat archive to map global man-made impervious surfaces and urban extent in unprecedented detail.

Name: Eric Brown de Colstoun, Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, NASA GSFC
Phone: 301-614-6597


Data Sources:

Technical Description of Figures

The figures show actual screenshots of the data set download tool from SEDAC ( for the GMIS data set. The inset detail over Baltimore MD shows the fine detail contained in the data (e.g. road networks within neighborhoods). The two data sets with associated uncertainty fields can be downloaded by country, region, or user specified shapefiles or regions.

Scientific significance, societal relevance, and relationships to future missions:

: With over half of the world's population living in urban areas today, the mapping and monitoring of urbanization is critical to understanding associated changes and their potential impacts on humans and Earth systems alike. While urban areas still represent a small proportion of the Earth's land surface, their impacts on hydrology, carbon, ecosystem services and energy/emissions, are felt from local to global scales. As we look to a future with a rapidly urbanizing planet it is imperative to develop the tools with which we can accurately measure and monitor urban expansion and its characteristics. These are central to a better understanding of the impact and consequences of this change, and the impacts and consequences of a changing climate on future cities and settlements. The availability of high resolution, free satellite imagery at multiple epochs from the GLS Landsat archive, and the NGA commercial satellite archive, provide great opportunities to map global man-made surfaces and extent in unprecedented detail. Future data from Landsat 9/10 and the Sentinels will further set the stage for high resolution monitoring of urbanization well into the future. New data sets in the vertical domain will also allow us to study the 3-D structure of the urban fabric.