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Tutorial: Turning on The Lights

An Introduction to VIIRS Nighttime Imagery


The most familiar views of Earth from space feature a blue-green planet lit by the Sun.

But in the darkness of night when the Moon, city lights, fires, or aurorae illuminate Earth, some satellites continue to gather images of light. And they are fantastic!

So how does such imagery come to be? Let’s take a look!


Topographic Diversity of the Contiguous USA


While exploring data offered within Google Earth Engine (as I am wont to do), I came across a gorgeous and elegant layer from the U.S. Geological Survey.

This data, which represents “topographic diversity,” immediately conveys exactly what it aims to: topography. But the ridges and valleys are not representative of Earth’s bumpy surface alone.


3D Models from NASA

Just Add a Rendering Engine!


You’re probably well aware that NASA has launched numerous spacecraft—some destined for orbit, others to land on distant planets, and some to initiate a galactic handshake beyond our solar system.

Many of these missions have corresponding 3D models. What’s more, NASA has made a number of these available to the public. From satellites and shuttles to rovers and crew modules, more than 300 objects are currently available to download.


Mapping the Distance to the Nearest Coastline


Recently, I stumbled upon a NASA dataset containing the distance to the nearest coastline. The data are a rather straightforward calculation based on input from GSHHG—the Global Self-consistent, Hierarchical, High-resolution Geography Database.

Provided as a convenient GeoTIFF, the coastline distances are available in 0.04° and 0.01° resolutions. This makes it ideal for quick exploration. Or a dive down geographic rabbit holes.


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

A Modern Rendering of an American Landmark


One of my favorite places to see in imagery and maps is Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and The Rincon. Here, water meets stone as myriad canyons reach out from the serpentine courses of the Colorado and Escalante Rivers.


Tactile Topography

New Heights for Old Maps


There’s something special about topographic maps. Each is different than the next, yet many reflect a canvas replete with smooth contours, pleasing colors, and a technical accuracy that can send both the mind and feet wandering.


Graveyards of The Contiguous USA


Lately I have been challenging myself to read more fiction. The most recent book to be checked off my list is Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. A morbid and suffocatingly dark story, and one I had previously only known from seeing the 1989 film as a kid. (Yes, the book is better. By a long shot!)


Commanding Cartography


Compelling cartography has never been easier or more abundant. We are inundated with new tools and technologies. All the while, one of the most powerful assets in the cartographer’s arsenal is being overlooked: the command line. Using keystrokes to create maps might sound like a task of yesteryear, but I am here to tell you it is a wormhole to the future. Whether you design maps for national parks or newsrooms, the terminal will enable you to supercharge your workflows with speed and elegance. This talk introduced some old tricks and new tools for designers on any deadline.


Landsat Fact Meets Fiction in Kong: Skull Island


In Kong: Skull Island, we follow a crew of scientists and military specialists into the thick jungles of an uncharted Pacific island. Encounters with previously unknown creatures abound. Released in 2017, the film is set in 1973 and prominently features a fictional company—Landsat—whose work involves classified satellite data.

But is it all fiction?


Now on Hugo


A few years ago I made the move from Wordpress to static pages. The benefits were immediate, and it has been nice not worrying about plugins, security patches, or millions of updates since.