Mapping the Arctic

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2017

Less than a year after President Barack Obama announced a White House Arctic Initiative that included better mapping of the area, a team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota Polar Geospatial Center released the first ever publicly available set of high-resolution, three-dimensional topographic maps of the entire state of Alaska.

Known as digital elevation models (DEMs), the maps will serve as a benchmark for future climate changes in the Arctic by assisting scientists studying glaciers, permafrost collapse, and coastal retreat.

Paul Morin, director of the Geospatial Center, says the ultra-high-resolution data, based on images captured by commercial satellites, will also be helpful for land management, sustainable development, and air transportation safety. With the DEMs, he says, scientists can see detailed topography of the land, including individual trees, lakes, roads, and buildings. “We are measuring the surface of the Earth at a resolution and geographic scale and spatial resolution that no one has ever done before. It is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen in my career.”

The DEMs and emerging information are available at

—Meleah Maynard


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