Asia - Remote Sensing Application - Completely Remote Sensing, GPS, and GPS Tutorial

An idea of just how vast Asia is as a landmass becomes evident in this relief map that shows its extent and the major mountain systems in various regions within it:

Relief map of Asia, including mountains and the trenches along its eastern margin in the Pacific.

The current geopolitical units (countries) in Asia are named in this map:

Geographic map of Asia

By convention the land designated now as Russia consists of European Russia (to the Urals) and Asiatic Russia. The largest expanse of land in the world that is a single political unit is Siberia, the huge tract that makes up most of Russia. Siberia is sparsely populated relative to European Russia, owing mainly to its harsh winter climate. It is one of the richer sections of the Earth�s crust in mineral wealth, oil and gas, and timber. Three types of landscapes/ecosystems are predominant: the lowlands steppes, the subarctic tundra, and vast stretches of mountains in its east and along the south. Because of its size, we show only a few examples. First, take a look at a map of Siberia and note the main cities:

Map of Russia including all of Siberia.

As said, the boundary between European Russia and Asiatic Russia (Siberia) is arbitrarily set at the western edge of Ural Mountains. This north-south range of folded Paleozoic rocks rises abruptly from flatlands on both sides:

Part of the Ural Mountains as imaged by Landsat.

The steppes of Siberia are vast grass-covered plains with low relief. This is a characteristic ground scene:

The steppes of Siberia.

Typical flat and largely barren steppes are found around the city of Kurgan, east and south of the Urals. In this May 1972 Landsat image, the dark gray areas have yet to be covered with vegetation since snow cover had only recently been melted. But some areas have begun to produce spring vegetation.

The steppes of southwest Siberia.

The second Landsat scene shows the westward flowing stretch of the Ob River, in the western Siberian Lowlands, about 500 km (300 miles) east of the Urals; as it moves further west it will turn north into the Kara Sea above the Arctic Circle. Its overall length is more than 4000 km (2500 miles). This meandering river now is in flood (June) after spring snow melt. The myriad of lakes in the upper half are formed as sinks owing to poor drainage in the underlying glacial tills. The entire region lies within the taiga forest zone, consisting of Siberian fir, stone pine, larch, and spruce. Surgut is the only town of any size in the image.

The Ob River valley that flows across the glaciated steppes of western Siberia.

Two major Siberian cities are situated along the banks of the Ob. The first is Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia. To its west is Omsk. Both are near the border with Kazakstan - thus in southern Siberia.

Novosibirsk; Digital Globe Quickbird image.
Landsat image of Omsk, on the Ob River.

The Yenisey River east of the Ob appears here in this Envisat MERIS image. Below it is the small city of Noril'sk, in the far north, which is a center for platinum and nickel mining.

The Yenisey River in Siberia.
Noril'sk in Siberia.

Much of Siberia in its northeastern extensions is heavily forested. This boreal forest is also known as a Taiga biome. Here is a photo showing this forest:

The boreal forest of Siberia.

From space the boreal forest in much of Siberia has the same uniform density - showing as continuous green in natural color - as do forests in the Amazon and Congo. Here is part of the eastern end of the Central Siberian Plateau, drained here by the Lena River, near the city of Yakutsk. The dark red patches are forest fire scars.

The heavily forested region near Yakutsk, Siberia.

Here is a view of Yakutsk itself, the largest city in mid-eastern Siberia, as made by the AVNIR sensor on the Japanese ALOS satellite:

Yakutsk, Siberia.

The Lena River, like the Ob and Yenisey Rivers, drains into the Arctic oceanic waters (the Lena into the Laptev Sea; the other rivers into the Kara Sea). The Lena forms one of the most spectacular, from space, deltas in the world, as shown here (another satellite image appears on page 17-4):

The Lena River Delta.

Parts of northern Siberia are treeless, being similar in landscape to the tundra of Alaska. This is the permafrost ecosystem of the Arctic:

Tundra landscape in the Siberian arctic.

The aforementioned Central Siberian Plateau is a wide platform of uplifted rocks including some that are folded; volcanic lava flows are also present. This Landsat black & white image shows a region of dissected rocks that form low broad hills, with maximum elevations around 700 meters (2300 ft). These rocks are mainly basalts, the so-called Siberian Traps of late Paleozoic age. The left-right river (white here because it is ice and- snow-covered) is the Nizhnyaya Tunguska, which flows into the Yenisey.

The dissected Central Siberian Platform.

In the far eastern reaches of Siberia, mountainous terrain predominates. Here are mountain-like hills and divides on a rolling plateau surface etched by past glaciation and current stream erosion; these extend from the Chersogo Mtns just to the south. Already, by this October 28th, 1972 date, the entire region is snow covered. The main drainage path is the Indigirka River (lower left), into which flow the Ulakhan (mid-left) and Nera (upper left) rivers.

Snow-covered mountainous terrain in eastern Siberia.

The northeastern end of Siberia is largely a wilderness, with only a few towns along its coast. This image shows it to be, like the interior, mostly forest-covered. The reddish patches are fire scars; several active fires are indicated by smoke:

Northeastern Siberia; the Bering Sea is to the right, across from which is Alaska.

In southern Siberia is Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater body in the world - 23000 cubic kilometers (5520 cubic miles), holding 20% of all such water on the continents (other than the Antarctic which holds more than half the world's drinkable water). Its depth reaches 1620 meters (5310 ft), also a world record. The city of Irkutsk (next paragraph) is to its west; it shows in the image below as at the end of the wide part of the Angara River near center top. Only the southern half of Lake Baikal is shown here:

Space image showing part of Lake Baikal.

Most westerners think of Siberia as desolate and in places almost uninhabitable. While there are vast stretches that are sparsely populated, some larger towns and a few cities are growing as the Russian people are encouraged to resettle in Siberia in an effort to better exploit its natural resources. About 100 km (62 miles) north of Lake Baikal is the city of Irkutsk, on the Trans-Siberian Railway. This astronaut photo shows its extent. It is the source of much of the electric power in that part of Siberia, generated at the Dam shown:

Irkutsk, southern Siberia; astronaut photo from the ISS.

In the southeasternmost part of Siberia is the city of Vladivastok, home of the Russian Pacific fleet and a major shipping port. It was lost to Russia after the Japanese-Russian War of 1905. Today it is the eastern terminus of the world's longest (more than 8200 km [5000 miles]) railway - the Siberian Express.

Landsat-4 image of Vladivostok (on the small peninsula).

The eastern end of Siberia includes a long land extension known as the Kamchatka Peninsula. Here we see it as rendered in a topographic image as made by the SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) software that utilizes radar data to extract elevations (see page 11-10; that page has other Kamchatka SRTM images).

SRTM image of the Kamchatka Peninsula; the area shown extends 1123 (N-S) by 638 km (692 x 396 miles).

The Kamchatka Peninsula has more than 150 volcanoes, many erupting frequently, making this one of the most active volcanic regions worldwide. This STS 53 astronaut photo shows several that have erupted in the 20th Century, including Kronotskaya (which rises 3528 meters [11570 ft])

Astronaut photo of volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Southern Siberia joins many countries owing to its wide E-W length. Steppes give way to semi-desert lands as seen in this image.

The southern segment of Siberia.

Now we move from Siberia to South Asia. Parts if the old Soviet Union became independent countries in the early 1990s. These are the "stan" nations, shown in this map (Afghanistan and Pakistan were not part of the Union):

Map showing the 'stan' nations of Central Asia.

The image below is part of the Kyzul Kum desert region of Uzbekistan, one of the Muslim countries loosely tied to Russia. The region is north of Afghanistan, in southwest Asia. The major river, running up through the center of the image, is the Amu Dar�ya, the longest (2300 km; 1440 miles) in this part of Asia, and is noted for carrying the heaviest sediment load (derived from the Tian Shan mountains) of any major river in the world. This load is carried into the Aral Sea (top) which actually is a large lake, slowly evaporating so that its maximum depth now is about 25 m (80 ft). The river has built a very large delta on which cane thickets and woody brushlands are widespread. Marshlands are indicated by the deep reds. Some farming occurs on the delta but is isolated owing to frequent flooding and is most prevalent where irrigation ditches have been dug. The swarm of sandy "islands" in the upper right are dunes now dissected and submerged by locally rising waters.

The Aral Sea (a lake) in Uzbekistan, north of Afghanistan, with a large delta formed by inflow of the sediment-laden Amu-Dar�ya River.

The capital of Kazakhstan, in one of the breakaway Republics from the former Soviet Union, is Almaty (formerly called Alma-Ata). This is a city of more than a million. It lies between the southern edge of steppe agriculture and a small mountain range:

Almaty, capital of Kazakhstan.

In the city of Komsomolets, in Kazakhstan, is an interesting urban land use pattern. This high resolution image shows that there are walls around various blocks:


Another former Republic is now Kyrgyzstan. Its principal city is Bishkek. Here is a Quickbird image of central Bishkek. This shows that most of the buildings are apartment complexes. During the Soviet era the housing policy favored putting most of the citizens in such complexes.

One meter resolution Quickbird image of Bishkek in Krygyzstan.

Here is a satellite image of Turkmenistan, on the Caspian Sea, and surrounding countries. Although largely arid, this country owes its limited prosperity to extensive reserves of oil and natural gas.


As the writer (NMS) surfs the Internet daily in search of more material to add to the Tutorial, every once in a while an image is found that is intriguing by itself and, while not always germane to the topics, worthy of putting online with comment. Such is the next image, a Landsat-7 view of the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, a SPOT image beneath it, and a view of the city from the ground.

Landsat-7 view of Ashgabat.
SPOT image of Ashgabat.
The Presidential Palace and the city of Ashgabat.

Until the day the above was put on line, the writer (NMS) had never heard of this city of more than 650,000. But I learned a lot by accessing this Wikipedia website. The city was first established in the 19th Century. In 1948 it experienced a 7.6 magnitude earthquake which killed upwards of 100,000 people.

We have seen images of Afghanistan before, in the Overview and elsewhere. Here is another, a photo taken by an astronaut during the Apollo 7 mission. The extreme ruggedness of the terrain offers strong evidence for why it has so far proved so difficult to find and capture Osama bin Laden, the terrorist behind 9/11.

The mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; Apollo 9 photo.

The next two scenes begin our introduction to what is literally "The Top of the World": The Himalaya Mountains, highest on Earth, and the highest flatlands (up to 5150 m; 17000 ft) on our planet making up the Tibetan Plateau to the north. The top scene covers these two features plus parts of China (Sinkiang Desert) and the Indian subcontinent. The lower scene Terra image shows much of both high altitude topographic features:

Panoramic view from space of much of South-central Asia; the dark area labeled Himalaya is actually the heavily wooded foothills (because of monsoonal rains) known as the Siwalik Hills (shown 5 illustrations below).
The Tibetan Plateau.

Vegetation is notably sparse over most of the Tibetan Plateau, as the Indian monsoonal rains have fallen when the air rose over the Himalayas, leaving the plateau with little available moisture (but some lakes survive). The bleak landscape is broken by occasional mountain blocks most of which are not particularly high (they're hard to find in the MODIS image). Over this landscape passes the highest railroad in the world (more than 80% is above 4000 meters; oxygen is available on the train). The Qingzang Line begins in Xining, passes through Golmud, and ends in Lhasa, the main city in Tibet. This is typical scenery:

A vista in Tibet.

The capital of Tibet is Lhasa, located within the Himalayas, seen here from space in an ASTER image restructed into a perspective view:

The valley containing Lhasa.

We remind you with this illustration (seen before in Section 2) that the Himalayas are the result of a massive collision by the northward migrating Indian subcontinent against the offshore sediments and land rocks in the "underbelly" of Eurasian plate along South Asia. The result has been a mix of crumpling and uplift of these rocks within the Himalayas and a rise of the Tibetan Plateau beyond as the front edge of the Indian plate subducted forcing the plateau rocks upward.

Schematic showing the progressive northward drift of the Indian subcontinent leading eventually to collision with South Asia, forming the Himalayas and surrounding mountain systems in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar (Burma).

The grandeur of these mountains has been captured in these two photos taken from the International Space Station from a height of 120 miles. The first looks to the north, over the foothills, and includes Mt. Everest on the far right top. The second looks from the south with the seventh tallest mountain in the Himalayas, Dhoulogiri, (labeled); the Tibet Plateau is in the middle ground.

The south approach to that part of the Himalayas that includes Mt. Everest; ISS astronaut photo.
The north side of the Himalayas, photographed by an astronaut on the International Space Station.

This is a good time to introduce an odd-shaped image, made by the Large Format Camera (LFC) flown on one of the Space Shuttle missions (the camera and mission will be reviewed in more detail on page 12-4). What you see below includes an area farther west and north of the above Landsat scene.

Large Format Camera photo (taken from the Shuttle) extending (on the southeast) from the Siwalik Hills across the Himalayas to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau (on the northwest).

The Himalayas occupy nearly all of the country of Nepal (a bit of northern India is present at the bottom of this next Landsat image). Its capital, Kathmandu, is visible in the valley above the left center edge. Going northward from the bottom, one passes across the High Plains of the Ganges to a line of dissected gravel deposits, known as the Siwalik Hills (elevations up to 1300 m [4300 ft], carried down from the high mountains during active uplifts in the later Tertiary. Their deeper red color indicate subtropical forests of bamboo and other vegetation. The relief becomes strikingly rugged in the Lesser Himalayas (3000 m [10000 ft]), that continue to rise towards the crest region of the High Himalayas (6000-8800 m [20000 to 29000 ft) marked by snow cover in this December image. Mt. Everest (8848 m [29030 ft]) does not stand out from neighboring peaks; it is near the upper right corner. Surprisingly, snow is largely absent from the intermediate heights, owing to the drying out of monsoonal rain clouds that have crossed the Indian subcontinent.

Landsat image of the High Himalayas, and their foothills, in Nepal and northern India; Mt Everest, in the scene, does not stand apart and is hard to find.

This next Landsat mosaic is a natural color rendition of much the same region as seen above, but extending over a wider area:

Landsat image of the Himalayas.

Most expeditions to Mt. Everest begin at Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Here are a pair of images made from Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) data in which the bottom is a black & white radar image in which Kathmandu is seen as a darker area in a valley and the top shows the topography of its surroundings, as produced using several SRTM bands and a Landsat subscene:

SRTM images of the topography in the Kathmandu, Nepal area; the bottom shows a radar view of this small city.

Kathmandu is an exotic place, in recent years becoming a popular tourist destination. Here is a closer look, in an astronaut photo:


Kathmandu is a city containing numerous apartments. It also has temples, both Buddhist and Hindu:

Aerial view of Kathmandu.
Temples in Kathmandu.

When one thinks of the Himalayas, often the name "Mount Everest" flashes through the mind. This tallest (28030 ft) peak on Earth is the ultimate goal of intrepid mountain climbers (more than 200 have died in their attempt to reach its summit). It lies on the border between eastern Nepal and Tibet (annexed by China). Here is a photograph of Everest, looking southward at the North Face which shows the mountain at its most challenging:

Mount Everest, a ground photo from Kallapattar.

Compare this photo with a view of Everest made by combining SRTM elevation data with a Landsat subscene, in which Everest is even more prominent because of vertical exaggeration:

Perspective view of Mt Everest and approaches maded from SRTM/Landsat data.

The best reason for trying this daring feat was given by George Mallory's famous (and profoundly simple) dictum: "Because it is there". (Mallory, a Brit, failed to reach Everest's top in a 1924 climb, dying somewhere on the upper slopes; his frozen body was discovered in 1999.) More than 1400 have since scaled it following the first successful try by Sir Edmund Hillary (July 3, 1953) and his Sherpa, Tenzing. Here are two views: the top a SIR-C radar image that brings out the rugged topography; the bottom a Landsat view:

Two views (SIR-C; Landsat) of the same stretch of the Himalayas containing Mt. Everest.

This astronaut photo shows Everest and other named peaks:

Everest and other named mountains in the Himalayas.

Recently, the IKONOS multispectral sensor made a notable image at 4 meter resolution that includes Mount Everest. It is the triangular-shaped feature just above the center; with this pattern, go back to the previous figure to locate the peak using Lhotse as a guide, keeping in mind that the IKONOS image is "upside-down" relative to the SIR-C and Landsat images.

IKONOS image of the Mt. Everest area; the peak lies near the arrow associated with the South Face; note that north points downward.

The Himalayan chain beckons mountain climbers from across the world. Some think that K2 (also known as Mount Godwin-Austen, named after a British Explorer) is the most difficult peak in the world to climb. The top was not reached until 1954. The mountain is the second highest in the world (8611 m; 28251 ft). It lies just inside Pakistan in the Karakorum extension of the Himalayas. These illustrations tell the story in their captions:

Map showing the location of the Karakorum Range.
The Karakoram Range
K2 is in this Landsat subscene; just about in the center.
K2 towers above other high peaks.
K2 close up.

Before entering India again, lets first look at Pakistan in this color mosaic:

Satellite mosaic of Pakistan.

The mosaic indicates the eastern half of Pakistan is a broad plains made by the Indus river. The western half is mountainous and sparsely populated. Here is a Landsat image that expresses the terrain dominated by the mountains:

The Makran range.

The capital of Pakistan is Islamabad, which is next to the older Rawalpindi:


Karachi, Pakistan is on the Indian Ocean. This SPOT image shows Karachi from space:

SPOT image of Karachi, Pakistan.

Now, to India, the world's third most populous country (over a billion people). It is often referred to as a "subcontinent". Here is a map that shows its largest cities:

Map of India.

A map of the geology of India shows that a large part is a Precambrian Shield made up of igneous and metamorphic rocks (gray). Below the Himalayas, the rocks are Cenozoic and younger (yellow). Volcanic extrusions (red) are carved into valleys and canyons/mountains of the Deccan Plateau.

Generalized geology of India.

Much of western and central India is dominated by the basalts of the Deccan Traps (a series of flows extruded between 68 and 60 million years ago). Here is a space image showing part of the plateau, along with an aerial view:

Part of the western Deccan Plateau.
Aerial view of typical Deccan Plateau scenery.

The Gulf of Kutch (lower left) in western India (State of Gujarat) is surrounded by the Kutch lowlands on the north and the Kathiawar Peninsula on the south. The region is also known as the Rann of Kutch. Vast tidal and saline marshes, with little vegetation, are distributed both in the upper left (the Great Rann) and at the head of the Gulf. (the Little Rann). These mudflats are superposed on alluvial plains, possibly developed when the Indus River to west once emptied further east into the Indian Ocean. The dark brown areas on land are low rises capped by part of the Deccan basalt flows that extend over much of western India. Only the area in the lower right is notably populated.

The Rann of Kutch, in western India; landscape consists both of weathered basalts and alluvial sediments.

South of the Rann, on India's west coast, is one of its famed cities - Bombay (now renamed Mumbai, to detach it from its English colonial history). Here it is in a Landsat-7 ETM+ image.

Mumbai (Bombay), India.

Moving north, then east we see this ASTER image of India's capital, New Dehli.

ASTER view of Old and New Delhi.

A more detailed view is afforded by this SPOT image of part of the Delhi group:

SPOT image of New and Old Delhi.

New Delhi is a comparatively young city, being built largely during and after the last years of British rule in India. Below is a skyline view of the modern part, and finally some government building in the style typical of Indian architecture:

Part of the New Delhi skyline
Government building in New Delhi.

About 160 km (100 miles) southeast of New Delhi is the most famous landmark in India - the Taj Mahal, built in the first half of the 17th Century by the Mughal Emporer as a promise to his wife, the Empress Muntaz Mahal, upon her death. Below is an IKONOS image of the Taj Mahal, just outside the city of Agra, and beneath it are two ground views:

The Taj Mahal from space: IKONOS image
Wide view of the Taj Mahal, showing its normal white color (marble)
The peach glow of the Taj Mahal, at sunset.

The largest city in south-central India is Hyderabad, outside of which is the Indian space program's National Remote Sensing Agency. It appears here in an LISS-3 false color image. The center of this city is home to India's "Arc de Triomphe", the Charminar, constructed as a monument in 1591 by Muhammed Quli Qutab Shah.

LISS image of Hyderabad (lower right)
The Charminar.

Still further south is the fast-growing city of Bangalore. Chances are you have talked with someone there - Bangalore has become the Information Technology (IT) capital of India. When you telephone an American business number, for example, you may be switched to a specialist in India who has been trained to provide the needed service. The Indian accents are distinctive, yet easily understood. But many software companies have relocated major facilities in this town. And the center of the Indian Space program is in Bangalore. Here is a Google Earth image of the city and an enlarged view of the Philips Electronic plant, one of the many foreign operations using the skilled but inexpensive labor force that is now becoming common in Asia as part of the "Flat Earth" - a term now applied to the process of globalization of the world's economy:

Part of Bangalore, India; Google Earth image.
Digital Globe high resolution image of the Philips plant in Bangalore.

A Landsat-7 image shows Calcutta, in southeast India; this is still the most crowded city in the country, and was home to Mother Theresa for decades. First, look at it in context with its surroundings, in this Landsat-7 image:

Landsat-7 image of eastern India.

A more detailed rendition of Calcutta is this SPOT image:

Calcutta, also now spelled Kolkata.

East of Calcutta is Bangledesh, a Muslim country through which flows the Ganges River. Its delta has many distributaries; the coastal zone is sparsely populated but contains vast mangrove swamps, dark green in this natural color astronaut photo. The region is subject to fierce typhoons and monsoonal rains that can severely affect the lives and safety of the densely populated areas (brownish in the upper part of the photo).

Astronaut photo of the Ganges Delta in Bangledesh.

The Brahmaputra River northeast of Calcutta, noted for its huge load of sediments, begins where several feeder rivers from the mountains of Tibet and the easternmost State of India, Assam meet. The river flows through Assam (right half of image) past the Shillong Plateau and the Garo Hills (a Precambrian crystalline complex) and upper Bangladesh (left), and finally into the Lower Ganges at Dacca (below this scene). In this view, it is joined by several rivers from the foothills of Sikkim and Bhutan. The Brahmaputra during rainy season can be greater than 8 km (5 miles) wide. Here, more than a month after the end of the monsoons, most of the water has flowed on, leaving choked stream beds and numerous small channels, a condition known as a braided stream.

The braided Brahmaputra River, as it flows across Assam in eastern India and a bit of Bangladesh, enroute to the Bay of Bengal (south, out of the picture).

Below the south tip of India is the former Ceylon, now an independent nation called Sri Lanka. Here is a mosaic of this country:

The island of Sri Lanka.

East of India and Bangladesh is the country of Myanmar. In World War II, it was known as Burma, and its chief city was then called Rangoon (now, Vangon). For several years, the Japanese Army occupied Burma and threatened to invade India.

Vangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma); SPOT-5 image.