Just a few days ago, the European Space Agency revealed this enthralling map which highlights Europe’s urban agglomerations. They didn’t offer too many details about it, just offering some technical specs:

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“The urban footprint extracted from the Global Urban Footprint Europe. GUF-2012 is derived from (commercial) 3 m-resolution TerraSAR-X/TanDEM-X SAR data and is available in 12 m resolution for any scientific use and in 84 m for any non-profit use. Commercial applications have to check with Airbus for the licensing.”

Currently, over 50% of the world’s populations lives in cities, and the figure is rapidly increasing as urban areas continue to draw more and more individuals. The Global Urban Footprint, which the ESA references, aims to deliver the worldwide mapping of settlements with an unprecedented spatial resolution of ~12 m. What you’re basically seeing in black are settled areas.

“The resulting map shows the Earth in three colors 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 project’s website reads.

This is yet another indicator of what an impact mankind is having on the planet, but these maps can be even more valuable, in offering the potential to  enhance climate modeling, risk analyses in earthquake or tsunami regions and the monitoring of human impact on ecosystems. It can also serve as a basis to study urban growth.