The Earth Archive Will 3D-Scan the Entire World & Create an “Open-Source” Record of Our Planet

If you keep up with cli­mate change news, you see a lot of pre­dic­tions of what the world will look like twen­ty years from now, fifty years from now, a cen­tu­ry from now. Some of these pro­jec­tions of the state of the land, the shape of con­ti­nents, and the lev­els of the sea are more dra­mat­ic than oth­ers, and in any case they vary so much that one nev­er knows which ones to cred­it. But of equal impor­tance to fore­see­ing what Earth will look like in the future is not for­get­ting what it looks like now — or so holds the premise of the Earth Archive, a sci­en­tif­ic effort to “scan the entire sur­face of the Earth before it’s too late.”

This ambi­tious project has three goals: to “cre­ate a base­line record of the earth as it is today to more effec­tive­ly mit­i­gate the cli­mate cri­sis,” to “build a vir­tu­al, open-source plan­et acces­si­ble to all sci­en­tists so we can bet­ter under­stand our world,” and to “pre­serve a record of the Earth for our grandchildren’s grand­chil­dren so they can study & recre­ate our lost her­itage.”

All three depend on the cre­ation of a detailed 3D mod­el of the globe — but “globe” is the wrong word, bring­ing to mind as it does a sphere cov­ered with flat images of land and sea.

Using lidar (short for Light Detec­tion & Rang­ing), a tech­nol­o­gy that “involves shoot­ing a dense grid of infrared beams from an air­plane towards the ground,” the Earth Archive aims to cre­ate not an image but “a dense three-dimen­sion­al cloud of points” cap­tur­ing the whole plan­et. At the top of the post, you can see a TED Talk on the Earth Archive’s ori­gin, pur­pose, and poten­tial by archae­ol­o­gist and anthro­pol­o­gy pro­fes­sor Chris Fish­er, the pro­jec­t’s founder and direc­tor. “Fish­er had used lidar to sur­vey the ancient Purépecha set­tle­ment of Anga­mu­co, in Mexico’s Michoacán state,” writes Atlas Obscu­ra’s Isaac Schultz. “In the course of that work, he saw human-caused changes to the land­scape, and decid­ed to broad­en his scope.”

Now, Fish­er and Earth Archive co-direc­tor Steve Leisz want to cre­ate “a com­pre­hen­sive archive of lidar scans” to “fuel an immense dataset of the Earth’s sur­face, in three dimen­sions.” This comes with cer­tain obsta­cles, not the least the price tag: a scan of the Ama­zon rain­for­est would take six years and cost $15 mil­lion. “The next step,” writes Schultz, “could be to use some future tech­nol­o­gy that puts lidar in orbit and makes cov­er­ing large areas eas­i­er.” Dis­in­clined to wait around for the devel­op­ment of such a tech­nol­o­gy while forests burn and coast­lines erode, Fish­er and Leisz are tak­ing their first steps — and tak­ing dona­tions — right now. On the off chance that humans of cen­turies ahead devel­op the abil­i­ty to recre­ate the plan­et as we know it today, it’s the Earth Archive’s data they’ll rely on to do it.

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Cen­tu­ry of Glob­al Warm­ing Visu­al­ized in a 35 Sec­ond Video

Explore Metic­u­lous 3D Mod­els of Endan­gered His­tor­i­cal Sites in Google’s “Open Her­itage” Project

Earth­rise, Apol­lo 8’s Pho­to of Earth from Space, Turns 50: Down­load the Icon­ic Pho­to­graph from NASA

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

3D Scans of 7,500 Famous Sculp­tures, Stat­ues & Art­works: Down­load & 3D Print Rodin’s Thinker, Michelangelo’s David & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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