navigation image mapnext pagetable of contentsprevious page

Geomorphology from Space

During the mid-1980s, the writer began research on space imagery for producing small-scale geomorphic maps and for investigating some specific geologic problems involving interrelations of landforms and tectonic processes. Aware of this, the Geology Discipline Leader at NASA Headquarter saw the potential benefits and decided to fund a conference on Regional Geomorphology. The writer got to organize it. Thus, on January 14-16, 1985, we held a Workshop on Global Mega-Geomorphology at Oracle, Arizona. Thirty international participants spent the first two days presenting papers and engaging in lively discussions and then met in four working groups on the third day to consider the role of space imagery in these thematic frameworks: 1) Global Geomorphology, 2) Evolution and Inheritance of Landforms, 3) Process Thresholds, and 4) Planetary Perspectives. This workshop (summarized in NASA Conference Publication 2312) laid a foundation for future research in a field whose name– Global Mega-Geomorphology, first proposed as a new concept in 1982–was certified by the attendees.

There was an almost immediate payoff. The writer received NASA funding to prepare a publication that focused on using space images to characterize landforms. Joined by Robert Blair, Jr of Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO, as co-editor, we assembled fourteen scientists (including ourselves) to write twelve chapters, each covering a different geomorphic theme, in a 717 page book entitled: Geomorphology from Space: A Global Overview of Regional Landforms (NASA SP-486), which appeared at the end of 1986. Although we distributed 4,000 copies, the book did not, at first, receive adequate publicity. In recent years, authorities have acknowledged it as an invaluable compendium of geomorphic information, as well as a comprehensive survey of the world's geology, and it has led to renewed interest in regional analysis.

Unfortunately, there was no second printing, so NASA and the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) cannot fill requests for copies. But, NASA leaders recognized its value, so people in the educational program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) decided to add it to their growing set of CD-ROMs, available at low cost to professionals and the public. The staff at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center did much of the scanning and layout, so this reproduction of NASA SP-486 with a new format now is available from JPL, with a limited quantity of CD-ROMs free to educators. Educators may put their name on a mailing list for a CD-ROM by filling out the requisition form at Please refer to that URL, as well as,, for updated information on ordering the "Geomorphology From Space" CD-ROM. A version of the book is also accessible on the Web at:

"Geomorphology from Space" contains nine thematic chapters: Tectonic Landforms, Volcanic, Fluvial, Deltaic, Coastal, Karst/Lakes, Eolian, Glacial, and Planetary Landforms. These chapters contain many stunning and revelatory images, all open to inspection on the CD-ROM and the Internet. To whet your curiosity, we now present two or more representative examples for each theme (except Planetary, which we thoroughly treat in Section 19), along with a brief description of what we extract from the image regarding geomorphology and general geology.

navigation image mapnext pageprevious page

Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email:

Collaborators: Code 935 NASA GSFC, GST, USAF Academy
Contributor Information
Last Updated: September '99

Webmaster: Bill Dickinson Jr.
Site Curator: Nannette Fekete

Please direct any comments to