Societal Benefits of Higher Resolution SRTM Products

February 04, 2015

The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), led by NASA in collaboration with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and German and Italian space agencies, took place in February 2000. The mission lasted for 11 days, orbited the earth 176 times, and collected elevation information from 80% of Earth’s land surface. Since the completion of this mission, SRTM data has proven to be valuable to both society and science.

The recent release of the NGA and NASA 1 arc second versions of SRTM, for almost all regions of the world, creates an opportunity to strengthen these benefits. The data has been released as a result of a campaign of several international organizations to highlight the value of quality, high resolution elevation data to the nine societal benefit areas (SBAs), identified by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). The SBAs range from agriculture, to ecosystems, to weather. Higher resolution SRTM data means improved accuracy of input data used in flood mapping, sea level rise models, volcano hazard assessments, and many other environmental and societal applications. Furthermore, for some users, especially those in developing countries, these SRTM data are the highest resolution elevation data ever made available. Therefore, for both new and existing users, there is a demonstrated need for capacity building and training to enable users to fully understand the utility and capabilities of 1 arc second SRTM data. Workshops and trainings, such as those offered by The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) CEOS’ Working Group for Capacity Building and Data Democracy and NASA’s SERVIR project, can help to provide international users the opportunities and resources to reap the greatest benefits from high resolution SRTM data.

Until recently, SRTM data was only available at its full resolution of 1 arc second, or about 30 meters, over the United States. For the remaining regions of the world, data was available at a resampled resolution of 3 arc seconds, or approximately 90 meters. In September 2014, the NGA began to grant public access to the higher resolution, 1 arc second, SRTM data, first releasing data over Africa and data for South America and Europe following in November 2014 and then most of Asia and Australia in early January 2015. One version of the data (Version 2.0/Finished) has been made available by the NGA through the USGS’ Long Term Archive and another version (Version 3.0), created under NASA’s MEaSUREs program, is distributed by NASA’s Land Processes DAAC. Learn more about the SRTM data products here in the recently released SRTM Quick Reference Guide.