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Downloading & Formatting Earth Images from Terraserver
for Recreational, Scientific, Educational & GIS Use

Author:Joseph J. Kerski, Ph.D.
Geographer: Education/GIS
U.S. Geological Survey
Building 810 - Denver Federal Center - Entrance W-5 - Room 3000
Box 25046 - MS 507
Denver CO  80225-0046  USA
Tel: 303-202-4315
Fax:  303-202-4137
http://rockyweb.cr.usgs.gov/public/outreach/
USGS:  Science for a Changing World

jjkerski@usgs.gov

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Description:
Stemming originally from a USGS agreement with Microsoft, USGS topographic maps and digital aerial photographs are available for free download from an Internet site called "Terraserver."

The TerraServer Web site is one of the world's largest online databases, providing free public access to a vast data store of maps and aerial photographs of the United States. TerraServer is designed to work with commonly available computer systems and Web browsers over slow speed communications links. The TerraServer name is a play on words, with 'Terra' referring  to the 'earth' or 'land', and it also to the terabytes of map images stored on the site.

The maps and aerial photographs can be downloaded into a graphics program, downloaded into a Geographic Information System (GIS), printed, or viewed on the computer screen.

The maps available on the site are USGS topographic maps at the following scales:   1:24,000, 1:100,000, and 1:250,000 (Alaska and Hawaii at other scales).  The site allows for zooming in on the maps to a resolution of 2 meters.

The aerial photographs available on the site are USGS aerial photographs flown at 1:40,000 scale.  The site allows for zooming in on the photographs to a resolution of 1 meter.

Coverage:  The maps are available for the entire United States.  The photographs are available for approximately 90% of the United States.

Units:   The maps and photographs are provided in the UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinate system.

Uses:

Recreational Uses: 
Use the maps and images as references for hiking, boating, hunting, camping, and other activities.  

Scientific Uses: 
Use the maps and images as references for construction, engineering, surveying, environmental studies, biodiversity studies, geologic studies, flood mitigation, earthquake and landslide studies, and more.

Educational Uses:  
Use the maps and images to analyze human and physical processes across the Earth’s surface, from across the country to right in your own neighborhood.  Examples include the following:

1)  Land Use:  What is the land use like in your neighborhood?  In your region?  How does it compare to land use elsewhere in the United States?      Why?  What influence does population, climate, proximity to coastlines, and other phenomena have on land use?  Why? 

2)  Landforms:  What type of landforms exist in your neighborhood?  In your region?  How do they compare to landforms elsewhere in the United States?  Why?  What influence does climate, geology, rivers, ancient and current processes, proximity to coastlines, and other phenomena have on landforms?  Why and how?  Examine the following landforms in your region and in other regions:  plains, floodplains, alluvial fans, oxbow lakes, deltas, braided streams, intermittent streams, glaciers, glacial valleys, eskers, kames, moraines, coastlines, ancient lakes, cirques, buttes, mesas, lava flows, sand dunes, karst topography, rolling hills, mountains, valleys, swamps, marshes, lakes, and other landforms.  How are these features evident on the topographic maps and aerial photographs?  What will the landscape look like 10 years from now?  In 100 years?  In 1000 years?

3)  Population:  Can you estimate the population in the map or photograph of your neighborhood?  In your region?  How does it compare to population elsewhere in the United States?  Why is it similar or different?  What influence does land use, climate, perception, and other phenomena have on population?  Why?  What does the settlement pattern look like in your region—is it clustered around a certain physical feature, or spread out evenly across the landscape?  What are the reasons?

4)  Urbanization:  What type of dwellings do people live in around your area?  How do these dwellings compare in size and density to those in other parts of your city?  How do these dwellings compare to those in other urban areas?  Why?  What influences the size and density and type of dwellings? 

5)  Scale.  How much terrain is visible (in square miles or square kilometers) at a scale, or resolution, of 1 meter?  Versus 2, 8, or 16 meters? How does the amount of detail change as the scale, or resolution, changes?  What is the best scale to view a glacier?  A school building?  A river delta?  A city?  Why?  How does the resolution of the aerial photographs compare to the topographic maps?  What is the maximum that you can zoom in on an aerial photograph versus a topographic map?

6)  Seasons.  Examine some aerial photographs taken in summer versus winter, spring, and fall.  What are the differences, in vegetation and sun angle, for example?  Why do they exist?  What would your area look like during the other seasons?

GIS Uses:   
Geographic Information System (GIS) Uses:  With a GIS, you can:

1)  Use these maps and images as base maps behind your field-collected coordinates.  The maps, as your field-collected coordinates using a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver, are both in Earth-referenced coordinates.  Therefore, the points you collect using your GPS will plot onto these maps.  Use the procedures below to ensure that the photographs and maps you download from terraserver contain the Earth-referenced information.

2)  Drape the maps and aerial photographs on a 3D digital elevation model (DEM) to visualize the Earth as it truly exists, in three dimensions.

3)  Enhance all spatial analysis with maps and aerial photographs.  

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Procedures:

1.  Go to http://terraserver-usa.com.

You will see a screen similar to that below.  Type in a specific city (without a state name) and press “Go.” 

2.        Select the correct city/state combination that you are interested in from the list that appears.  

3.        Select a TOPOGRAPHIC MAP of the area you are interested in.  Continue zooming and panning using the compass rose and the plus and minus sign below the compass rose until your desired area is in the view.   Make the image size LARGE using the button below the zoom bar.  

You can zoom in until the zoom factor is 2 meters, as in the example below.

4.  To download, do not right click on the image at this point, or you will only obtain a very small portion of the image.  Rather, select DOWNLOAD on the button bar above the image:

You will see a screen similar to that below. 

5.  After the image has redrawn, right-click on the image and SAVE AS  <filename_drg>.jpg

For example, oakcliff_drg.jpg

6.  Click on the WORLD FILE link to open the registration file for the image in the browser window. 

Go to FILE  —> SAVE AS   <filename>.jgw

For example, oakcliff_drg.jgw

Be sure to save this as a TEXT file, not HTML, but keep the file extension as JGW, not TXT.   Also, it must have the same base name as your JPG file, above.

7.  Go back to the browser window where your topographic map is (before you downloaded it).  Click on IMAGE to see a DOQ of that same area.   (Note—Not every area of the country has images on Terraserver at present).   The procedures for the DOQ will be similar to that for the DRGs that you followed above.  Make sure the image is LARGE.

8.  Select DOWNLOAD in the upper right hand corner of the image.  You will see a screen similar to that below.  Click on the FREE DOWNLOAD arrow to redraw the image.

9.  After the image has redrawn, right-click on the image and SAVE AS  <filename_doq>.jpg

For example, oakcliff_doq.jpg.  The screen will look similar to that below:

10.  Click on the WORLD FILE link to open the registration file for the image in the browser window. 

Go to FILE  —> SAVE AS   <filename>.jgw

Be sure to save this as a type TEXT file, not HTML, but keep the extension of the file JGW, not TXT.

For example, oakcliff_doq.jgw

Be sure to save this as a TEXT file, not HTML.   Also, it must have the same base name as your JPG file, above.

11.  In ArcView 3.x, turn on the JPG reader extension and add your images as IMAGE THEMES.  If they do not appear, be sure to check your file names on your system. 

In ArcGIS, add the images as layers.

 Datum Notes:

Spatial data are referenced to a horizontal datum and a vertical datum, both of which are based on a mathematically calculated shape of the earth.  These datums are re-calculated from time to time, based on more accurate models of the shape of the earth. 

All of the DOQs are cast on the North American Datum (NAD) of 1983.

Some of the DRGs are cast on the North American Datum of 1927, but most are in 1983, depending on the map date.  If the map is post-1983, then it is probably in NAD 83, but many maps are older than this.

If your DOQ is in NAD 83 and your DRG is in NAD 27, the files will not exactly overlay; they may be up to a few hundred meters off.  You will need to edit the header file of the image you wish to change.   The header files are 6 lines long.

The first and the fourth line indicate the resolution of the image.   The image for which the header is displayed below has a 1 meter resolution because lines 1 and 4 are 1.0000000:

1.000000
0.000000
0.000000
-1.000000
700800.000000
3620000.000000

Procedures to Adjust the Horizontal Datum of One of Your Images:

First, decide which image to adjust.  Usually, you should adjust whatever image is out-of-sync with the rest of your data.  If you have 10 layers in NAD 27 but only 1 in NAD 83, even though the 1983 datum is more accurate, it would make more sense to adjust 1 layer to NAD 27 rather than adjust 10 layers to NAD 83. 

Second, make a backup of the original header file. 

Third, use WordPad or other text editor to edit the file.  You will need to adjust the last two lines of the file:  These are the coordinates where most GIS software, including ArcView from ESRI, starts drawing the image.  Look at the two images on your screen.  Look at an identifiable point on each image, such as a road intersection.  Adjust Lines 5 and 6 until they overlay.   Line 5 is the east-west position, line 6 is the north-south position. 

For example,

To move the image 20 meters to the WEST, subtract 20 from Line 5.

To move the image 20 meters to the EAST, add 20 to Line 5.

To move the image 20 meters to the SOUTH, subtract 20 from Line 6.

To move the image 20 meters to the NORTH, add 20 from Line 6.

Be sure to save as TEXT after each edit so that your GIS software will recognize it.

After each edit, in ArcView 3.x, you will need to delete the theme that you are adjusting and re-add the theme as an image.  

After each edit, in ArcGIS 8, you will need to delete the layer  that you are adjusting and re-add the layer.

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
Rocky Mountain Mapping Center
Maintainer: webmaster@rockyweb.cr.usgs.gov
URL: http://rockyweb.cr.usgs.gov/public/outreach/terraserver.html
Last modified:  5 June 2002