Google Research

Where we live—A summary of the achievements and planned evolution of the global urban footprint

  • Thomas Esch
  • Felix Bachofer
  • Wieke Heldens
  • Andreas Hirner
  • Mattia Marconcini
  • Daniela Palacios-Lopez
  • Achim Roth
  • Soner Üreyen
  • Julian Zeidler
  • Stefan Dech
  • Noel Gorelick
Remote Sensing, vol. 10 (2018), pp. 895


The TerraSAR-X (TSX) mission provides a distinguished collection of high resolution satellite images that shows great promise for a global monitoring of human settlements. Hence, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has developed the Urban Footprint Processor (UFP) that represents an operational framework for the mapping of built-up areas based on a mass processing and analysis of TSX imagery. The UFP includes functionalities for data management, feature extraction, unsupervised classification, mosaicking, and post-editing. Based on> 180.000 TSX StripMap scenes, the UFP was used in 2016 to derive a global map of human presence on Earth in a so far unique spatial resolution of 12 m per grid cell: the Global Urban Footprint (GUF). This work provides a comprehensive summary of the major achievements related to the Global Urban Footprint initiative, with dedicated sections focusing on aspects such as UFP methodology, basic product characteristics (specification, accuracy, global figures on urbanization derived from GUF), the user community, and the already initiated future roadmap of follow-on activities and products. The active community of> 250 institutions already working with the GUF data documents the relevance and suitability of the GUF initiative and the underlying high-resolution SAR imagery with respect to the provision of key information on the human presence on earth and the global human settlements properties and patterns, respectively.

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