Joint Research Centre - European Commission

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Extract of a map of Beijing showing building height: The Forbidden City (see square) and its surroundings

Extract of a map of Beijing showing building height: The Forbidden City (see square) and its surroundings© JRC

Mapping of human settlements with Chinese satellite data


The JRC and the Centre for Earth Observation and Digital Earth of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS-CEODE) have successfully performed a joint experiment in which they have applied JRC algorithms to data from the Chinese satellite sensor CBERS-2B. About half a million square kilometres of Chinese territory (an area of approximately the same size as Spain) were successfully analysed by the automatic image information extraction system of the JRC’s Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC), which was able to detect and map man made constructions.

The experiment is an important step in further testing and extending the global human settlement layer (GHSL), a set of digital satellite maps that offers a unique view of the populated world. The GHLS initiative is under development by JRC-IPSC. The layer was conceived to support crisis management, including damage assessment, recovery, reconstruction and planning, which should benefit from an improved and consistent description of human settlements over the globe.

The three-day joint experiment was performed last March at the headquarters of the Chinese Observation Centre in Beijing. The Centre made available a total of 354 satellite image scenes in panchromatic mode and 64 in multi-spectral mode. The JRC automatic image information extraction system was applied successfully over the whole image dataset made available by the Chinese partner.