Regional Morphometric and Geomorphologic Mapping of Martian Landforms

Computers & GeosciencesComputers & Geosciences, Volume 45, August 2012, Pages 190–198

Radu Dan Capitan and Marco J. Van De Wiel

“Initial mapping of the Martian surface, based on stratigraphic markers identified from Viking imagery, resulted in the demarcation of broad planetary scale geological zones. Recent advances in image resolution have established the presence of many smaller surface elements superposed on the older geological zones, thereby indicating younger surface morphologies that are in contradiction with the older mapping. Moreover, the stratigraphic mapping technique is subjective and relatively cumbersome because of its reliance on visual interpretation of images.

“In this paper a new analytical technique is developed which uses morphometric analysis of the Martian elevation map (MOLA data) to automate delineation and mapping of landforms at the regional scale. The analysis relies on altitude, local relief and local watershed clustering to delineate the landforms, and applies statistical clustering to identify structures with similar properties.

“As a case study, the technique is applied to Atlantis and Gorgonum basins. Comparison of the delineated features with landforms visible on high-resolution THEMIS images illustrates the accuracy of the morphometric technique in delineating and classifying surface structures, and also permits interpretation of the origin and evolution of the landforms. Our results also show that morphometric data and morphologic evaluation can be combined into a single interpretation of the distribution of surface patterns. A new geomorphological map of the study area is produced and contrasted with the existing stratigraphic map.”

Citizen Scientists Map the Transit of Venus

Esri logoEsri Builds Astronomy Observations Map Application

Working with Astronomers Without Borders, GIS software company Esri has built a Transit of Venus web map application that instantaneously displays data from amateur astronomers. Using a free smartphone application, these citizen scientists from around the world will capture their observations of the transit of Venus in early June and have their timing measurements immediately published on a map on

“The Astronomers Without Borders relationship with Esri is fantastic,” said Mike Simmons, president of the nonprofit organization. “These technologies make it possible for everyone to take part in important astronomical events.”

Smartphone app.

Smartphone app.

The Esri Transit of Venus web map application, running on ArcGIS for Server, will work in coordination with the iPhone and Android Transit of Venus applications. This web application will show the following:

  • Where on earth the transit is visible and at what times
  • Tweets, pictures, and videos about the transit
  • Points of observations from the phone application with recorded and predicted times
  • An animation on what the transit looks like on the sun and which side of earth can view it

On June 5 or 6, 2012, depending on one’s location, Venus will pass between the earth and the sun. Through telescopes, professional and amateur astronomers will see Venus as a small, round dot moving across the sun. Since the eighteenth century, astronomers’ measurements of this rare event have been used to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun.

With thousands of people projected to participate in the 2012 Transit of Venus project, this may well be one of the largest crowd sourced mapping projects to date. The transit recordings will first be sent to the project center in the Netherlands and a few seconds later to Esri in Redlands, California. Anyone can add their impressions of the transit via Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, and these social media items will be displayed on the Transit of Venus map.

Follow this Transit of Venus project as it’s happening on June 5 at

[Source: Esri press release]

Spatial Analysis of Terrain in Virtual Reality

IEEE VR Workshop 2012

Rolf Westerteiger, Andreas Gerndt, Bernd Hamann, and Hans Hagen

“We extend an existing Virtual Reality terrain visualization framework to support spatial analysis tasks for geoscientific purposes. Interactive measurement of height profiles is used as an example application to demonstrate the efficacy of the approach. In this application, virtual reality technology enables superior perception of profile line localization with respect to terrain features.”

Fault network on Mars next to Valles Marineris

Fault network on Mars next to Valles Marineris

An Extensible Simulation Environment and Movement Metrics for Testing Walking Behavior in Agent-based Models

Computers, Environment and Urban SystemsComputers, Environment and Urban Systems, Available online 6 August 2011

Paul M. Torrens, Atsushi Nara, Xun Li, Haojie Zhu, William A. Griffin, and Scott B. Brown


  • We present a novel framework for simulating pedestrians and metrics for evaluating movement.
  • Our approach can be applied across application scenarios, cities, and scales.
  • We prove its usefulness in studying a range of movement scenarios at different scales.

“Human movement is a significant ingredient of many social, environmental, and technical systems, yet the importance of movement is often discounted in considering systems’ complexity. Movement is commonly abstracted in agent-based modeling (which is perhaps the methodological vehicle for modeling complex systems), despite the influence of movement upon information exchange and adaptation in a system. In particular, agent-based models of urban pedestrians often treat movement in proxy form at the expense of faithfully treating movement behavior with realistic agency. There exists little consensus about which method is appropriate for representing movement in agent-based schemes. In this paper, we examine popularly-used methods to drive movement in agent-based models, first by introducing a methodology that can flexibly handle many representations of movement at many different scales and second, introducing a suite of tools to benchmark agent movement between models and against real-world trajectory data. We find that most popular movement schemes do a relatively poor job of representing movement, but that some schemes may well be “good enough” for some applications. We also discuss potential avenues for improving the representation of movement in agent-based frameworks.”

New USGS Web Service Helps ArcGIS Users Study the Planets

A revised web page with new tools enabling researchers to link planetary features and names directly to programs such as ArcGIS and GoogleEarth has been unveiled, greatly simplifying the work of standardizing terminology and locations of planetary features throughout the solar system.

This new “web feature service, which links the planetary database to the end-user’s program, is part of a comprehensive renovation of the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature website. This website, run by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center, is the official site for accessing the current and complete list of International Astronomical Union approved names for rings, satellites, and features on the surfaces of planets other than Earth.

Once a user’s computer-mapping, or Geographic Information Systems program, is linked, the user can explore the database using a variety of visualization tools and detailed searches.  The service ensures that updates, refinements, and additions to the planetary database are automatically streamed to the user, encouraging the consistent use of IAU approved planetary names. A web map service also allows users to link to and explore planetary maps hosted by the USGS.  The web feature and map services both adhere to Open Geospatial Consortium standards.

The USGS runs this website to assist planetary scientists during the course of new missions. “We help scientists obtain IAU approved names in order to ensure that planetary features of high scientific interest, such as craters, mountains, and channels are officially named and described,” said Jennifer Blue, planetary nomenclature expert with the Astrogeology Science Center.

The new “web feature service” has also precipitated the redesign of the website’s user interface. “The technical requirements of implementing the web feature service provided a unique opportunity to also make visual improvements to the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature website,” said USGS web-developer Ryan Raub.

The new website is intended to enhance the user’s visual experience and provide intuitive and efficient exploration of the planetary nomenclature database. It provides an interactive homepage, complete with rotating planets, where users can quickly select a planet or body of interest. International Astronomical Union approved names are displayed as annotated points or areas on an image of the planet, where users can pan to different regions or zoom for increased detail.  With a few clicks, users can display detailed information about surface features such as a size and location as well as what the name means.

USGS web-developer Mark Bailen notes the new website benefits scientists and enthusiasts alike. “The new ‘target chooser’ provides a fun way to explore the planets while revealing valuable information about the Solar System,” said Bailen.

The web feature and map services are the first of several improvements that will take place to the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature over the coming months and years.  To explore the new website and access its new web feature and map services, please visit Planetary Nomenclature website. For more information on linking to the services, visit the Astrodocs Webservices website.

The mission of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center is to serve the Nation, the international planetary science community, and the general public’s pursuit of new knowledge of our Solar System. The Science Center’s vision is to be a national resource for the integration of planetary geosciences, cartography, and remote sensing. As explorers and surveyors, with a unique heritage of proven expertise and international leadership, USGS astrogeologists enable the ongoing successful investigation of the Solar System for humankind. For more information, visit

[Source: USGS press release]

Assessment of Planetary Geologic Mapping Techniques for Mars using Terrestrial Analogs: The SP Mountain Area of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Arizona

Planetary and Space Science, Volume 57, Issues 5-6, May 2009, Pages 510-532

Kenneth L. Tanaka, James A. Skinner Jr., Larry S. Crumpler, James M. Dohm

“We photogeologically mapped the SP Mountain region of the San Francisco Volcanic Field in northern Arizona, USA to evaluate and improve the fidelity of approaches used in geologic mapping of Mars. This test site, which was previously mapped in the field, is chiefly composed of Late Cenozoic cinder cones, lava flows, and alluvium perched on Permian limestone of the Kaibab Formation. Faulting and folding has deformed the older rocks and some of the volcanic materials, and fluvial erosion has carved drainage systems and deposited alluvium. These geologic materials and their formational and modificational histories are similar to those for regions of the Martian surface. We independently prepared four geologic maps using topographic and image data at resolutions that mimic those that are commonly used to map the geology of Mars (where consideration was included for the fact that Martian features such as lava flows are commonly much larger than their terrestrial counterparts). We primarily based our map units and stratigraphic relations on geomorphology, color contrasts, and cross-cutting relationships. Afterward, we compared our results with previously published field-based mapping results, including detailed analyses of the stratigraphy and of the spatial overlap and proximity of the field-based vs. remote-based (photogeologic) map units, contacts, and structures. Results of these analyses provide insights into how to optimize the photogeologic mapping of Mars (and, by extension, other remotely observed planetary surfaces). We recommend the following: (1) photogeologic mapping as an excellent approach to recovering the general geology of a region, along with examination of local, high-resolution datasets to gain insights into the complexity of the geology at outcrop scales; (2) delineating volcanic vents and lava-flow sequences conservatively and understanding that flow abutment and flow overlap are difficult to distinguish in remote data sets; (3) taking care to understand that surficial materials (such as alluvium and volcanic ash deposits) are likely to be under-mapped yet are important because they obscure underlying units and contacts; (4) where possible, mapping multiple contact and structure types based on their varying certainty and exposure that reflect the perceived accuracy of the linework; (5) reviewing the regional context and searching for evidence of geologic activity that may have affected the map area yet for which evidence within the map area may be absent; and (6) for multi-authored maps, collectively analyzing the mapping relations, approaches, and methods throughout the duration of the mapping project with the objective of achieving a solid, harmonious product.”

Mission Architecture Decision Support System for Robotic Lunar Exploration

Planetary and Space Science, Volume 57, Issue 12, October 2009, Pages 1434-1445

P. Weiss and K.L. Yung

“It is common practice in the landing site decision process for planetary or lunar exploration to limit the choice of sites to locations that strictly meet the technical and safety requirements of the lander. The science objective is ultimately implemented within the operational requirements of the mission strategy.

“In this paper, we present a study that derives the technical requirements of the landing strategy by considering proposed landing sites. The study reviewed the objectives of the future robotic exploration of the Moon and proposed targets from the Apollo era to our time. Three types of strategies are defined, namely, rover missions, immobile landing stations, and impacting probes. The capabilities and restrictions of each system are taken into account and compared to the science objectives of the proposed landing sites. A Geographic Information System (GIS) with lunar datasets was developed and the methodology was implemented. The study concludes with a description of the resulting mission scenarios that were assigned to the targets. The technical requirements for each landing system to fulfil these scientific objectives are derived and the feasibility, based on the technological readiness, is discussed.”

Map-projection-independent Crater Size-frequency Determination in GIS Environments – New Software Tool for ArcGIS

Planetary and Space Science, In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 24 March 2010

T. Kneissl, S. van Gasselt, and G. Neukum

“Statistical analysis of crater size-frequency distributions (CSFDs) of impact craters on planetary surfaces is a well-established method to derive absolute ages on the basis of remotely-sensed image data. Although modelling approaches and the derivation of absolute ages from a given CSFD have been described and discussed in considerable depth since the late 1960s, there is no standardised methodology or guidelines for the measuring impact-crater diameters and area sizes that are both needed to determine absolute ages correctly. Distortions of distances (i.e., diameters) and areas within different map projections are considerable error sources during crater and area measurements.

“In order to address this problem and to minimize such errors, a software extension for Environmental Systems Research Institute’s (ESRI’s) ArcMap (ArcGIS) has been developed measuring CSFDs on planetary surfaces independently of image and data frame map projections, which can also be theoretically transferred to every Geographic Information System (GIS) capable of working with different map projections. Using this new approach each digitized impact crater is internally projected to a stereographic map projection with the crater’s central-point set as the projection center. In this projection, the circle is defined without any distortion of its shape (i.e., conformality). Using a sinusoidal map projection with a center longitude set to the crater’s central-point, the diameter of the impact crater is measured along this central meridian which is truescale and does not show any distortion. The crater is re-projected to the map projection of the current data frame and stored as vector geometry with attributes. Output from this workflow comprises correct impact-crater diameters and area sizes in sinusoidal map projections and can be used for further processing, i.e. absolute age determinations (e.g., using the software CraterStats). The ArcMap toolbar CraterTools developed in this context significantly helps to improve and simplify the crater size-frequency (CSF) measurement process. For GIS-based measurements, we strongly recommend our procedure as the standard method for determining CSFDs on planetary surfaces to minimize map distortion effects for further analysis.”

A Spatial Analysis of Gullies on Mars

Proceedings of the 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2010)

L. Kincy, C. Currit, D. Butler, and S. Fuhrmann

“The possibility of life on Mars has intrigued people for over a century. A necessary re-quirement for life is water, a substance confirmed to exist on Mars. Gullies are features typically created by flowing water. Although Mars today is a desert planet, numerous geologically young gullies exist. The pres-ence of these gullies on the surface of other features, such as craters, suggests the gullies are young relative to the features on which they lie [1]. Many images of Martian gullies have been studied and compared to gullies on Earth to try to determine the origin of Mar-tian gullies. A gully is defined as a surficial feature having an alcove above a channel, and channels are typically associated with water [1].”

NASA Invites Citizen Scientists to Help Improve Map of Mars

Are you bored working on Open StreetMap?  Are you submitting basemap corrections to Google and increasingly finding yourself thinking “there has to be more to life than this”?  Well NASA has a new way for you to volunteer your time to not just make the world a better place, but make the solar system a better place.

NASA and Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., have collaborated to create a Web site where Internet users can have fun while advancing their knowledge of Mars.

Drawing on observations from NASA’s Mars missions, the “Be a Martian” Web site will enable the public to participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.

“We’re at a point in history where everyone can be an explorer,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With so much data coming back from Mars missions that are accessible by all, exploring Mars has become a shared human endeavor. People worldwide can expand the specialized efforts of a few hundred Mars mission team members and make authentic contributions of their own.”

Participants will be able to explore details of the solar system’s grandest canyon, which resides on Mars. Users can call up images in the Valles Marineris canyon before moving on to chart the entire Red Planet. The collaboration of thousands of participants could assist scientists in producing far better maps, smoother zoom-in views, and make for easier interpretation of Martian surface changes.

By counting craters, the public also may help scientists determine the relative ages of small regions on Mars. In the past, counting Martian craters has posed a challenge because of the vast numbers involved. By contributing, Web site users will win game points assigned to a robotic animal avatar they select.

With a common goal of inspiring digital-age workforce development and life-long learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, NASA and Microsoft unveiled the Web site at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles this week. The site also beckons software developers to win prizes for creating tools that provide access to and analysis of hundreds of thousands of Mars images for online, classroom and Mars mission team use.

“Industry leaders like NASA and Microsoft have a social responsibility as well as a vested interest in advancing science and technology education,” said Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice president of the Developer and Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft. “We are excited to be working with NASA to provide new opportunities to engage with Mars mission data, and to help spark interest and excitement among the next generation of scientists and technologists.”

To encourage more public participation, the site also provides a virtual town hall forum where users can expand their knowledge by proposing Mars questions and voting on which are the most interesting to the community. Online talks by Mars experts will address some of the submitted questions. Other features include interactive tools for viewing Martian regions and movies about people who study Mars in diverse ways.

“Mars exploration inspires people of all ages, and we are especially eager to encourage young people to explore Mars for themselves,” said Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We are delighted to be involved in providing the creative opportunity for future explorers to contribute to our understanding of Mars.”

“The beauty of this type of experience is that it not only teaches people about Mars and the work NASA is doing there, but it also engages large groups of people to help solve real challenges that computers cannot solve by themselves,” said Marc Mercuri, director of business innovation in the Developer and Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft.

The Mars Exploration Program is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To enroll as a virtual Martian citizen and start exploring, visit

[Source: NASA press release]