navigation image mapnext pagetable of contentsprevious page

We now leave the North American continent to look at city scenes in South America, Europe, and Asia. Images from several different space platforms are represented. The page ends with several ERTS curiosities.


Buenos Aires, Argentina; Brasilia, Brazil; Paris, France; Munich, Bavaria; Budapest, Hungary; Florence, Italy; Riyahd, Saudi Arabia; Beijing and Shanghai, China


We turn now to foreign cities. Let's swing south to the east coast of South America. One of the largest cities, both in areal size (1800+ square kilometers)and in population (13 million) is Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Buenos Aires has been called the "Paris of South America" This aerial photo shows why this is appropriate - and we will visit Paris itself on this page.

Aerial view of central Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Buenos Aires appears on the left side of the image below, a natural color photograph taken by the EarthKAM camera system mounted in the NASA International Space Station. The dimensions of this photograph are 121 km (76 miles) by 81 km (52 miles). (For more information on this camera, link on to EarthKAM, at which site you can also find many more pictures taken from the ISS.)

A photograph of Buenos Aires taken by the EarthKam from the Space Shuttle.

This great urban center was built along the west coast of the upper estuary of the Rio de la Plata. Into it flow the small Rio Pirana and large Rio Uruguay, both carrying a heavy load of silt which colors the water a reddish-brown. The agricultural fields beyond the eastern shore lie within the country of Uruguay. Similar fields abound in the lowlands around Buenos Aires. The head of the estuary is a delta covered with thick riparian vegetation.

Another South American capital, Brasilia, Brazil has a special history. It was built "from scratch" in the late 1950s and now has a population of 2 million. The layout of the city was carefully planned so as to have broad streets and open parks and clean, modern government buildings. Look first at two aerial oblique views of the central area of this city, provided by Auguste Areal:

Aerial view of part of Brazil's capital, Brazilia

Central Esplanade around which Brasilia has been built

Digital Globe's Quickbird satellite has taken a look at the central part of Brasilia. Notice the large areas still kept as open space.

Quickbird-2 image of Brasilia.

This next image of another part Brasilia and its surroundings was provided by Mr Weber Sa, a native of Brazil, who is working towards his Master's degree in GIS at the University of Minnesota. His research is a study of water quality in the large lake in this scene. The image was taken by the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS).

CBERS satellite image of part of Brazilia.

Crossing the Atlantic, the next city we visit is another nation's capital and is quite familiar to those who've traveled Europe. Paris to many is the most beautiful urban area in the world. Let's take our first look at the spread of the city around the Seine River, as imaged in false color by Envisat's ASAR radar, in which the white tones signify strong reflections of the radar beam owing to the many corners and other reflector structures from building in both Paris and its suburbs.

ASAR image of Paris on July 5, 2003;

Here is two aerial overviews looking northeast that captures the city's sprawl and centers on the famed Eiffel Tower, found on the Left Bank:

Panorama of much of Paris, France.
Courtesy; Carolina Map Distributors

View looking roughly to the north at the gleaming white buildings of Paris, France, with the Eiffel Tower rising above the generally low skyline.

The Eiffel Tower, the "trademark" of Paris, has been imaged at 4 meters from space by the IKONOS satellite (this image seems to have been taken either at night or when lights were on):

An IKONOS image of the Eiffel Tower

DigitalGlobe's Quickbird has also produced a high resolution image of the Eiffel Tower, this time showing its surroundings in color:

Quickbird 2 meter color image that includes the Eiffel Tower and part of the central City of Paris.

But both of these are "Johnny-come-lately's"! The U.S. military satellite KH-9 took this high resolution image in the late 1960s, more than 30 years before civilian satellites were allowed to achieve this quality of resolution.

KH-9 photo of the Eiffel Tower, in the late '69s,

Paris as depicted in a Spring 2000 Terra ASTER image looks like this:

Paris in the Springtime; ASTER image

Especially prominent is the strongly meandering (bending) River Seine; the small river joining from the south is the Orse. The large wooded area (red tones) within a river loop near the western limits of denser population is the Foret de St. Germaine. Central Paris, with its many famed monuments and buildings, lies just to the west of the juncture of the Marne (of World War I fame; in the lower right quadrant) with the Seine. Note the wooded areas within Paris and its suburbs (bright red tones).

Use this map to locate some of the main streets and places of interest in central Paris. You should be able to find the equivalent area in the ASTER image. And, as a challenge, locate the IKONOS Eiffel Tower scene in the ASTER image.

Map of central Paris; Note: on the middle left edge, the arrow points to the Bois de Moulogne - this is a typo mistake, it should be Boulogne.

Look now at a small part of this great metropolis as seen at 10 m resolution by the panchromatic sensor on SPOT-3.

SPOT Panchromatic image of part of Paris, France just west of the central city.

4-11:Try to fit the SPOT subscene in the ASTER image. ANSWER

The upper right corner is about 1.2 km (0.75 mi) southwest of the Eiffel Tower, the symbol of this city. The panorama seen in the next picture is a view which I (NMS) took from this tower looking generally southwest towards the SPOT scene.

Part of Paris looking southwest down the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower.

The feature in the Eiffel photo that looks like a distorted pentagon is the Hippodrome de St. Cloud and to its west is the Fôret de la Malmaison, a forested tract just south of Rueil Malmaison.

4-12: Is any of the SPOT scene in the Eiffel photograph? ANSWER

The south end of a great meander loop of the Seine River that passes across this section of the city is prominent in the SPOT image. Within the loop is a community known as Boulogne Billancourt. The southern end of the Bois de Boulogne, the city's largest park, appears as a dark area at the top right. This ground photo shows the wooded park and a group of tall buildings to its west; the foreground in this picture corresponds to the low height buildings in the photo from the Eiffel Tower; in the background are tall buildings in the Hauts de Seine.

The Bois-de-Boulogne and surroundings, looking west.

The major road crossing the SPOT image center is a large expressway, the AutoRoute de l'Ouest (A13) to Rouen and then Le Havre on the English Channel. Adjacent is the Parc de St. Cloud, within the inner suburb by that name. The lower half of the image shows the highway A86 just above the Villacoublay airport. Route 10 winds northeast between the two irregular wooded areas bounded by Meudon on the east and the center of Versailles on the west. Route 118 passes northward through Velizy-Villacoubay, joining 10 near the Seine loop.

Paris has many circular centers (roundabouts) with major converging streets. The most famous, perhaps in the world, is the 8-lane circular road around the Arc de Triomphe, seen here (as it was downloaded off the Net) in this Quickbird-2 image (about 2 meters resolution). (In 1960, not realizing that there was an underground tunnel beneath the roadway, the writer crossed on foot during the Parisians' rush hour - a hairy experience, similar to passing in front of a herd of charging rhinoceroses.)

Quickbird image of the roundabout circling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris; the widest avenue leading in and out of this roadway is the famed Champs d'Elysee.

SPOT-5 has also looked at this famous area of Paris, with its HRG camera that produces images in the 2 meter range. Fit it into the ASTER image above (not easy; there is something "wrong" that may trick you).

SPOT-5 HRG image of the Arc de Triomphe and street patterns that converge on it.

4-13: Inspect the SPOT-5 image and orient its scene relative to the Quickbird image. Clue: something is amiss with the Quickbird image. To assist you, we insert a map of the Arc de Triomphe area below this question. ANSWER

Map of streets running through the Place de la Arc de Triomphe.

Another roundabout is the Place de la Nation in the eastern part of the city. This is what it looks like at 2 meter resolution using the panchromatic digital camera KVR-1000 on the Russian SPIN-2 satellite launched in 1998; the wide roadway to the east is the Cours de Vincennes.

2 meter SPIN-2 image of Place de la Nation in eastern Paris.

With nostalgia, we must say au revoir to the City of Lights. Next, we cross the Rhine into Germany's Bavaria to visit the city of Munich. To realize its relation to the Bavarian Alps to the south, here is the city's setting seen in a panoramic photo:

Aerial view of Munich, Bavaria, Germany.
Courtesy: Carolina Map Distributors

Now, to glance at this city (as some would say, of "Beer Halls"), first look at the color composite made from C- and X-band images acquired by the SIR-C radar system:

SIR-C color composite of Munich and its environs in Bavaria, Germany.

Then, examine this RESURS-1 image (note the blackish areas that form a distinctive pattern; this is common throughout much of Germany.

Munich, in Bavaria.

This natural color image of the northeast edge of Munich was made by India's IRS-1. Note the widespread distribution of trees and other vegetation.

A 20-m resolution natural color image of part of Munich (including the Old Town) in Bavaria, southern Germany, taken with the multispectral scanner on the Indian IRS-1.

IKONOS obtained a high resolution color image of the old sections of central Munich (note the red roofs, a trademark of many German towns, composed of baked clay tiles).

IKONOS view of central Munich.

About 215 km (135 miles) east-southeast of Vienna is Budapest, capital of Hungary. This Landsat-6 natural color image shows the city, divided by the Danube River, so that Buda lies on the west side and its other section, Pest, is to the east. Below this image is a ground photo of these two segments.

Landsat-6 321 (RGB) image  of Budapest.

Buda Pest from the air, looking northeast.

The last stop on the European urban tour is in Italy. We look at the beautiful smaller (about a half million people) city of Firenza or Florence, nestled in the Tuscany hills several hundred kilometers north of Rome in Italy. Florence is known as the cradle of the Renaissance, the home of Michelangelo, and a treasure house of art and culture. Here it is in a radar color composite (L-HH = red; L-HV = green; C-HV = blue. See Section 8 for an explanation of these bands and polarization modes) made by the SIR-C radar from the Space Shuttle on April 14, 1994:

Florence as depicted in a color composite using different polarization modes for a SIR-C image set acquired on April 14, 1994.

For the writer, Florence is one of the five top cities in Europe that warrant a "must-see" status. It is for many the place most identified with the blossoming of the visual arts in the late Middle Ages. Here is an overview along the River Arno:

Panorama of Florence, in Tuscany, Italy.
Courtesy: Carolina Map Distributors

This view, taken by the writer, is at an odd orientation but north is towards the top. The Arno passes through the image as a narrow, winding black band. That same river runs through the ground scene (below) taken from the Piazza Michelangelo on the south side of the city. The famed Ponte Vecchio (a 15th century covered bridge with shops and stalls still in business today) is one landmark. The tower in the town hall at the Piazza Vecchio lies near the photo center and part of the Duomo (cathedral) with Giotto's Tower is at the right edge.

Florence, Italy viewed from the west side of the Arno River.

In the radar composite (above), much of the city stands out in very dark gray to black tones, signifying low radar beam returns. The large, dark, partial "V" in the central city is the railroad station, which has a flat roof.

4-14: Speculate on a possible cause of the black tones in the radar image. Check the ground photo again. ANSWER

The capital of the vast country of Saudi Arabia is Riyahd. In 1970, this city was still relatively small. But the Royal House of the Saudi's embarked on a huge development program thereafter, financed in large part by their income from their huge petroleum reserves that became the principal source of oil for much of the world in the second half of the 20th Century. From the illustration below, one can see in two Landsat scenes the extent of expansion between 1970 and 1990. The 2000 ASTER view of Riyahd shows that enlargement has thereafter slowed considerably.

Landsat 1970 and 1990 views of Riyahd, Saudi Arabia; below a 2000 ASTER image of the same area.

The second city of Saudi Arabia is Mecca which contains the holiest shrine in Islam, a great plaza with a rectangular structure containing a meteorite that is considered to have fallen into the Muslim world directly from Heaven. Devout Muslims make the Hajj, a pilgrimage to this shrine required at least once in a lifetime. Here it is as seen in a Quickbird image:

The shrine and part of Mecca.

With their vast wealth stemming from huge reserves of oil and gas, countries in the Arabian MegaPeninsula have been modernizing their cities and building new facilities. Among the most striking is this array of arcuate land sites for residential homes built out from Dubai, United Arab Republic, into the Arabian Sea:

Palm Island complex, Dubai, UAR; Quickbird image, Digital Globe.

Let's close this visual excursion to modern foreign cities by looking at two in China. Here is central Beijing, including the Inner City and Tiananmen Square, as seen by IKONOS, at two different scales and resolutions:

IKONOS image of central Beijing including the Walled Inner City, with the Imperial Palace and Tiananmen Square in the upper right; the dark area on the left may (?) be an area that experience a widespread fire and is now being partially rebuilt.

Enlarged view of the above scene.

Try to fit this next picture, an aerial oblique photo showing Tiananmen Square and its surroundings, into the IKONOS image (hint: there are two squares in the image).

Tiananmen Square.

SPOT-5 has produced a high resolution of Tiananmen Square, with features easily matched with the above oblique aerial view, after realizing the SPOT image bottom is near the top of the aerial view:

Tiananmen Square; SPOT-6 image.

Prudently preserved, the old city of Peking fits within a now much more expansive modern city with many high rises:

The skyline of modern Beijing.

One of the largest cities in Asia, and its fastest-growing, is Shanghai, on the east coast of China. Here is part of this now very modern city, as rendered from a Landsat-7 color composite registered with a SPOT 10 meter resolution image (these images were received by at the Chinese Remote Sensing Ground Station, which is operated by the Chinese government under contract with the U.S. and France).

Merged Landsat 7-SPOT panchromatic image of part of Shanghai, China.

SPOT-5 has provided this 2.5 m resolution image of central Shanghai (not in the above scene). The writer has specially processed it by a contrast stretch so that it resembles a radar image.

SPOT-5 image of central Shanghai, China.

Within this image is an intersection of many roads that cross each other in a multi-tiered "spaghetti bowl". Try to count the different roads involved; this may be a record.

Intersections of a number of freeways and roads in central Shanghai; SPOT-5 enlargement.

These two ground photos 1) looking west (from right to left in the Landsat-7 image) and 2) looking south along the river show the many new skyscrapers that have been built in the last quarter century in Shanghai, seen across the Huangpu River, with the Pearl of the Orient Tower shown in the right foreground (present in the Landsat-7 image right of the bend in the land at the extreme right but hard to pick out).

Central Shanghai.

The tower is part of the scene in this IKONOS image of Shanghai:

IKONOS image of the section of Shanghai that contains the Pearl of the Orient Tower.

The Tower can be enlarged to show this detail:

The Pearl of the Orient Tower, enlarged from the preceding IKONOS image.

So, now Asia has a structure to rival the Eiffel Tower in France.

The First ERTS Images: Dallas-Fort Worth and California

We close this page on an historical note. The first scene processed by Landsat-1 (ERTS-1) was presented to an expectant and excited group of scientists, engineers, and technicians at the Operations Center of Goddard Space Flight Center, two days after its July 23, 1973 launch. The first product was an RBV image made as a low resolution Polaroid of a subscene along an orbital path crossing through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Only several levels of gray tones were recorded since the image had not been adequately "stretched" to its maximum levels and hence details were lacking. As everyone tried for more than an hour to identify this puzzling area, not one of the experts present could locate this subscene based on its pattern. (Regrettably, this historical product was not saved by anyone in the room.) When the corresponding MSS was fully processed a day later, it looked like this.

The very first ERTS-1 scene - an MSS Band 5 rendition of Dallas, TX.

This is Dallas, Texas, near the center and a bit of Fort Worth along the left edge. The Trinity River runs through downtown Dallas towards the lower right. Interstate 20 passes E-W near the bottom of the scene and Interstate 30 follows parallel to it in the left center. I-635 is joined by I-20 on the east but in this scene, it is apparent that the former is not yet complete. Also, the white area in left center is the partially completed Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport.

The prime problem in identifying the location was that the atlas was about 5 years out-of-date. Several reservoirs and lakes clustered around Dallas -Fort Worth, which were built since its publication, were not depicted in the atlas, although several appear in this subscene (elongated black patterns). Thus, no one initially could match the broader Polaroid pattern to this incomplete map pattern with satisfactory certainty. Eventually, some "wise men" deduced that this was the cause of the misfit, and Dallas-Forth Worth officially was recognized as the inaugural ERTS scene. However, in fact, the first full black and white scene that they viewed later that day was a stunning cloudfree image of the Ouachita Mountains in eastern Oklahoma (bottom of page 6-3 and the first color composite covered the Monterey Bay to San Joaquin Valley section of California, shown in the middle of page 2-8.

We reproduce that false-color composite here, for its historical significance and because the first version, seen here, serves as a collector's item because of a production quirk.

First false color composite Landsat-1 image - Monterey Bay to San Joaquin Valley, California.

Before reading on, study this image to see the obvious anomaly. You may want to look again at the full scene images of New York City to refresh your awareness of image shape.

Remember that this shape (New York City image) is a rhombus with the upper part tilted to the right. This is the consequence of the Earth turning (counter-clockwise or W to E) under the spacecraft as it passes from north to south. Each successive scan sequence shifts slightly to the west. When processed, the image must express this by its vertical boundaries being moved progressively to the left. Somehow, this was not done correctly as the technicians rushed to get the first color composite to the waiting ERTS specialists, so that the upper part is tilted left instead of the usual right.

In one sense, the Monterey image has historical significance. Before transitioning to the next topic, we insert here another example of how space imagery can record a geographically historical site. The Quickbird view below is of the cemetery and memorial building at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, where well over 100000 military landed on June 6, 1944.

Quickbird image of the beach and uplands at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

On the next page we will look at some truly historical (pre-modern times) imagery.

navigation image mapnext pageprevious page


Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email: nmshort@ptd.net