NCSA’s Blue Waters Supercomputer Helps Map the Earth

November 17, 2021
Former NGA Director Robert Sharp (at left), who joined UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik in signing an Educational Partnership Agreement between UMSL and NGA last year, is joining the UMSL Geospatial Collaborative as a research fellow and will help guide efforts to lead collaborative K-16 workforce and talent development. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Daues/NGA)


One of the earliest projects to ramp up after NCSA launched the Blue Waters supercomputer in 2013 was a project from the University of Minnesota’s Polar Geospatial Center. They wanted to make high-quality digital elevation models, or DEMs, for the polar ice. Their process of using stereo satellite imagery to make the DEMs worked, and soon the team was immersed in maps with two-meter resolution.

Then a call came from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The United States would be chair of the Arctic Council from 2015–17. Would two years be enough time for PGC and collaborators to make these high-fidelity DEMs for the entire Arctic Circle region? And the race was on.