Digitizing the Himalayas

Seemingly real enough for digital Tomb Raider Lara Croft to scamper around in, this is the Himalaya Atlas of Aerial Panoramas, a unique digital collection of more than 700 images, depicting the world’s most spectacular mountain range, from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Uttar Pradesh in the west .

Dr William Bowen, a California State University, Northridge geographer and the project's creator, said he initially began making digital photo maps to give his students a visual of the material they covered in class.

“It is cheap by any conventional measure,” Bowen said. “It allows me to go and see almost any part of the world without leaving my chair. And what is more telling, I can see it in a way formerly unknown and unimagined by even those who live there. Only in dreams could even the most skilled Sherpa circle Mount Everest or Cho Oyu (in the air).”

To make the Himalaya Atlas, Bowen outlined topography using satellite digital elevation models (DEM), which are freely available on the web, and then “cloaked” them with Landsat data about land cover (ie snow, rock, vegetation). This created a three-dimensional mathematical model on which Bowen could position a virtual camera and take a snapshot.

Though Bowen said the project's price tag is hard to pin down, he estimates the necessary computer hardware and software cost $10,000 (US).

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