x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Breathtaking views of UAE from the sky

A new atlas of the UAE captures the nation in astonishing detail from the edge of space.

The vivid red roof of the Ferrari World theme park stands out in this image of Yas Island by the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology.
The vivid red roof of the Ferrari World theme park stands out in this image of Yas Island by the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology.

From the evolving developments on Yas Island to the dotted collection of islands that make up Dubai's The World, a new atlas documents the nation's fast-changing landscape in stunning detail thanks to satellite imagery.

Launched by the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST), the atlas comprises pictures from DubaiSat-1 - the UAE-owned earth observation satellite launched in 2009 from a former Soviet base in Kazakhstan.

The device, which cost US$50 million (Dh183.7m) to develop, monitors the progress of the country's different construction projects from its orbit 680 kilometres above Earth by sending images four times a day to EIAST's listening station in Al Khawaneej, Dubai.

It is these images, archived for safe keeping, that EIAST has carefully sifted through to publish its first atlas.

"The team came up with the idea of making an atlas only of the UAE, through which we can share the images with the people, and which reflects the contribution of UAE engineers in building this satellite and placing it into outer space," says Omran Sharaf, director of the space images processing and analysis department at EIAST.

"The other objective was to spread awareness among students, both in schools and universities, about the space field and get them interested in space technology."

The atlas, which is in Arabic and covers an area of 83,600 square kilometres, will be published next month.

It took eight months to complete with a team of cartographers, engineers and researchers selecting 70 of the most recent and best-quality images for publication.

But despite having a library of 9,000 pictures to choose from, the process was far from straightforward.

Some shots were obscured by cloud cover, while others had to be merged to create a bigger image.

"In many instances the team had to decide whether to compromise image quality for recent images or the opposite," Mr Sharaf says.

"Also, combining different image strips together, with each 20km in width, to cover a specific area was another challenge. The team had to adjust the colour contrast and present it as one image."

Stand-out features of the atlas include pictures of Yas Island, with a clear view of Ferrari World's red roof, Saadiyat Island, the Palm Jumeirah and a shot of The World, which also covers Business Bay and the bright blue water feature surrounding Burj Khalifa.

The camera on DubaiSat-1 takes wide-frame images with a 2.5-metre per pixel resolution.

While many of the captured images are of the UAE and the wider Arabian Gulf area - taken to monitor scientific and environmental changes such as the quality of water - it has recorded pictures from across the world.

The satellite has been a useful tool for tracking coastal erosion and helping to formulate disaster recovery plans.

Images taken in 2011 in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, for example, were used by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

In November, EIAST released images it had taken of the holy city of Mecca, before and after Haj. A picture taken during Haj showed the crowd of Muslims as a black spot in the middle of the Grand Mosque.

Such a detailed perspective will prove invaluable in the UAE, where the landscape changes at breakneck speed.

EIAST plans to update the 127-page atlas regularly when new images come in, and produce an English version.

When EIAST's DubaiSat-2, an advanced imaging satellite set for launch this year, begins operating, it will be able to send even clearer images thanks to a higher resolution camera that will capture minute detail such as cars parked on streets.

The sky's the limit.

arayer@thenational.ae