Night Light Maps Open Up New Applications

Much has been written lately in the popular press regarding the new set of satellite images released by NASA showing Earth at Night. Few sources provide a clearer view of human settlement patterns contrasting heavily populated and industrialized areas with those less populated and/or less “plugged in”; while Europe and eastern North America gleam, much of Africa is dark despite its high population, although the Nile Valley and Delta sure stand out.

I particularly like the Earth at Night images for illustrating settlement patterns across Canada: high concentrations show up as the urban archipelago across the nation; there are regular, evenly-dispersed populations across the plainsfarmland of southwestern Ontario and, of course, the Prairies; mountain valleys in the west clearly show linear patterns as do the coastal margins of the Martimes and St. Lawrence and along with rail and road corridors across northern Ontario, while much of the rest of the Canadian Shield is dark except for randomly dispersed mining and logging settlements and First Nations’ communities.

I highly recommend spending a few minutes reading this article by the Earth Observatory, as it provides an insightful glimpse of the tech behind these wonderful images – ideal for anyone pursuing remote sensing.

Weekend Wandering 10: Reading the ABCs from Space


Back in December of last year, one of the most visually interesting of NASA Earth Observatory’s Features was released – Reading the ABCs from Space. Initially, it sounds a bit juvenile, like being back in Primary School, but when you start looking at the satellite images and the captions below, one becomes more and more engrossed (at least, I did!)

It got me thinking about how to use a resource like this for more than its face value. Right now, my students are working through constructive and destructive geologic processes that form the various types of landforms around the world and it occurred to me that they should be able to make some connections between what they are learning and what the various images show. It needs more thought and a more robust framework. but it’s an idea that will simmer quietly in the background between now and when I present the course again next year.

As my wife Laurie said, “There’s a children’s book in this!” Hmmmmmmm.


Seeing the forest for the trees

imageDo you subscribe to NASA’s Earth Observatory Image of the Day? If you are a student of geography, you should; if you are a teacher, you must! Each week you will be sent a synopsis of the images from that week – but it’s not just images! With each image is a well-researched write up providing context and additional links.

As well, they offer feature stories, often about how remote sensing is used to analyse issues here on Earth. One I turn to frequently is “Seeing the Forests for the Trees” which is a look at how satellite technology is used not just to analyse land cover, but also the height of forest canopy. For Geomatics students, they provide a behind-the-scenes look at how satellite data is verified through direct observation.

The article is multifaceted in that’s you learn about studying forests and forestry issues, and also about remote sensing and forests as carbon sinks.

Land, if you need more information about Forests, head over to

Ice Sheet Thickness from Satellite Observations

IceThicknessYet another exploration of how remote sensing by satellites is helping researchers learn more about what’s happening here on Earth. The beauty of it is that satellites work around the clock making images and taking measurements to degrees of accuracy we could never imagine in the past.

Put all those snapshots and measurements together over time and we end up with a reality far better than any model. This video shows quite well what is happening to ice in the Arctic and Antarctic: Ice Sheet Thickness from Satellite Observations – brought to you by the European Space Agency.

For more information about the effects of Climate Change, visit > Climate Change.

Rift Valley Dynamics

MtLongonotIt must be video week. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve looked at so many static pages lately.

While doing some research at the European Space Agency Observing Earth website, I came across this video showing the amazing use of satellite technology for measuring deformation around volcanoes. It’s called Rift Valley Dynamics and it is meaningful to me, at least, as the research is from the Great Rift Valley of East Africa – near and dear to my heart.

What I found particularly compelling was how accurate satellites could be and how well the researchers and producers could portray what they were doing visually and without words in 4 minutes. A great addition to any class on volcanoes or remote sensing.

To learn more about Plate Tectonics and Volcanoes, visit > Plate Tectonics and > Volcanoes.