The White House Releases the Most Detailed Maps of Alaska to Date

Michele Debczak
Screenshot via The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
Screenshot via The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency / Screenshot via The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Humans have long been fascinated with Arctic exploration, and yet it's remained one of the most inadequately mapped corners of the Earth. Even portions of the Moon and Mars have more detailed elevation maps than the landscape above the Arctic Circle. A new initiative from the White House, the National Science Foundation, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency seeks to change that, starting with the release of the most detailed digital topographic maps of Alaska available, National Geographic reports.

The new Arctic Digital Elevation Models, or ArcticDEMS, were composed using satellite imagery. The maps show a resolution of about 7 to 17 feet, and they’re even sharp enough to detect features less than 2 feet across in some spots. Previous maps of the state only showed topographic differences of 100 feet or larger. (Some of the coastal charts we’d been using before were based on centuries-old data gathered by Captain Cook.)

The high resolution doesn’t just make for a gorgeous map—it’s also an invaluable tool for studying and dealing with climate change. Increased detail will allow researchers to track the changing face of the Arctic as global temperatures and sea levels rise. Flooding and erosion pose a significant threat to many Alaskan villages, and more accurate maps could provide the data residents need to adapt.

Alaska is first installment the ArcticDEMS series, and by the end of 2017, maps of the rest of the Arctic north of 60 degrees latitude will be unveiled. The interactive map of Alaska is now available to explore online.

[h/t National Geographic]

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