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.