Visualize and Explore Surface Elevation Data with OpenAltimetry

OpenAltimetry, a cyberinfrastructure platform for working with data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and ICESat-2 missions, is now a full NASA Earth science application.

Working with data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and ICESat-2 missions is now much easier thanks to the NASA-funded OpenAltimetry cyberinfrastructure platform.

OpenAltimetry is a free and powerful map-based data visualization and discovery tool. Development of the application was originally funded as part of NASA’s Advancing Collaborative Connections for Earth System Science (ACCESS) program, one of several Competitive Programs in NASA’s Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program. After extensive development and testing, OpenAltimetry is now available in NASA’s Earthdata Cloud.

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OpenAltimetry screenshot showing true-color image of north africa and the strait of gibraltar; green lines on left and right indicate ICESat-2 orbit; colored dots on green lines indicate available data.
Image from OpenAltimetry showing a true-color image of North Africa and the Strait of Gibraltar. Green lines indicate the ICESat-2 orbit; colored dots indicate available data, in this case the ATL08 product is selected, which is Level 3 Land/Water Vegetation Elevation. Credit: OpenAltimetry.

ICESat (operational 2003 to 2010 with data available from 2003 to 2009) was the first in a series of planned missions to measure changes in ice sheet elevation and the heights of clouds and aerosols. It also provided topography and vegetation data around the globe, in addition to the polar-specific coverage over the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) aboard ICESat acquired data to measure ice-sheet topography and associated temporal changes, cloud and atmospheric properties, and information on the height and thickness of radiatively important cloud layers.

ICESat-2 (launched in 2018) uses a laser altimeter to measure the height of Earth’s land, water, and snow/ice in unprecedented detail. The Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) aboard ICESat-2 measures surface height to a precision of about one inch (roughly the length of a standard paperclip).

ICESat and ICESat-2 data are very large files, and hosting them in the Earthdata Cloud provides much greater efficiency for working with them. Through OpenAltimetry, users can explore data and work with data directly in the cloud without the need to download individual files—a great savings in time and computational power.

Data from both missions are archived and distributed by NASA’s National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (NSIDC DAAC), which provides data and information for snow and ice processes—particularly interactions among snow, ice, atmosphere, and ocean—in support of research in global change detection and model validation. With the launch of OpenAltimetry, the NSIDC DAAC will provide maintenance and support for the application as well as future enhancements.

Explore OpenAltimetry

Explore ICESat/ICESat-2 Data at NASA's NSIDC DAAC