Global Urban Footprint (GUF) Precise Map of Human Settlements Location

Cairo (Egypt)

For a comprehensive and objective analysis of the settlement patterns, the DLR additionally developed an approach to display the spatial networks between the mapped settlements. It enables the computation of various form and centrality measures to characterize settlement patterns, at different spatial units, ranging from global to local scale.

Currently, more than half of the world’s population are urban dwellers and this number is still rapidly increasing. Since settlements - and urban areas in particular - represent the centres of human activity, the environmental, economic, political, societal and cultural impacts of urbanization are far-reaching. They include negative aspects like the loss of natural habitats, biodiversity and fertile soils, climate impacts, waste, pollution, crime, social conflicts or transportation and traffic problems, making urbanization to one of the most pressing global challenges. Accordingly, a profound understanding of the global spatial distribution and evolution of human settlements constitutes a key element in envisaging strategies to assure sustainable development of urban and rural settlements.

The GUF dataset is based on the radar (SAR) satellite imagery of the two German satellites TerraSAR X and TanDEM X. A huge dataset of about 180,000 very high-resolution SAR images with about 3 m ground resolution was processed for this dataset. Using a newly developed method, implemented in the fully automated Urban Footprint processor, to generate a global raster map of the world’s settlement patterns, the single GUF datasets had been established at the German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD) of the DLR. a newly developed method, implemented in the fully automated Urban Footprint processor, was used to generate a global raster map of the world’s settlement patterns, resulting in the GUF data set.

The GUF product is a worldwide map of settlements with an unprecedented spatial resolution of 0.4 arcsec (~12 m, for scientific use only) of the years 2010-2013. For non-commercial use, the GUF is available with a spatial resolution of 2.8 arcsec (~84 m). The resulting map shows the Earth in three colours only: black for “urban areas”, white for “land surface” and grey for “water”. This reduction emphasizes the settlement patterns and allows for the analysis of urban structures, and hence the proportion of settled areas, the regional population distribution and the arrangement of rural and urban areas.

The GUF exhibits a high potential to enhance climate modelling, risk analyses in earthquake or tsunami regions and the monitoring of human impact on ecosystems. Moreover, it also can be employed as a basis for monitoring both the historical growth of different settlements, as well as their ongoing and future development. This will allow effective comparative analyses of urban dynamics among different regions of the world.

Esch, T., Taubenböck, H., Roth, A., Heldens, W., Felbier, A., Thiel, M., Schmidt, M., Müller, A., Dech, S. (2012): TanDEM-X mission-new perspectives for the inventory and monitoring of global settlement patterns. Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, vol. 6, issue 1, 061702 (October 04, 2012); 21 pp., doi: 10.1117/1.JRS.6.061702. 

Esch, T., Marconcini, M., Felbier, A., Roth, A., Heldens, W., Huber, M., Schwinger, M., Taubenböck, H., Müller, A., Dech, S. (2013) Urban Footprint Processor – Fully Automated Processing Chain Generating Settlement Masks from Global Data of the TanDEM-X Mission. IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2013. Pp. 1617-1621. ISSN 1545-598X, DOI 10.1109/LGRS.2013.2272953.