Minimize ESA School Atlas

ESA and Geospace launched an educational resource in the form of the ESA School Atlas. As a complement to the more conventional atlas, this represents an evolutionary leap in teaching resources, using satellite data to show the Earth as it really is.

The Atlas is built on satellite imagery and is packed with the most current and visually stunning results of Earth Observation. It displays in a clear and novel way all the fundamental processes affecting the Earth system, and demonstrates the techniques of the future for monitoring and understanding our planet.

This Educational resource is an invaluable tool for the classroom, finally providing a very affordable exposure to costly satellite imagery from a wide variety of sensors. Wide swath imagery providing continental and global overview is included, together with satellite imagery of the highest spatial resolution available today, with images of 0.6m resolution.

The production of the School Atlas was funded by ESA's Earth Observation programme specifically to convert this kind of Earth Observation material into an educational resource affordable to schools, and the atlas is available at a much reduced cost!

Earth Observation exploits our understanding of physics and computer science to observe a great many features and processes taking place on the Earth's surface and atmosphere. Some examples include the monitoring of plants, oceans, atmospheric gas concentrations, geological features and changing cities. As such, while the methods of Earth Observation are primarily relevant to the study of physics and computer science, the applications are significant to an extremely wide variety of disciplines, including among others: geography, biology, chemistry, environmental sciences, art and history.

The ESA School Atlas kit is a very valuable resource also for students of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). There are many ready made digital exercises on DVDs provided with the Atlas that can be used with the free software packages LEOWorks and ArcExplorer.

The Atlas is accompanied by a Teacher's Handbook and a digital version on two DVDs. It is available in both English and German.

Alternatively, select the links below to download freely the DVDs and Teacher's Handbook:

The Atlas contains the following content:

Introduction to ESA (10 pages) - this section contains a colourful introduction to the European Space Agency, describing its role and its many programmes and resources.

2) Earth Observation (8 pages)   - this section explains - with the help of many images and diagrams - the fundamentals of Earth Observation. It includes an introduction to satellite systems, remote sensing, image processing and GIS.

3) Global Overview (20 pages) - this contains information about different global processes and phenomena. It includes sections on topography and plate tectonics, ocean currents, cloud cover, natural hazards, etc. There are also sections on human aspects observed at the global scale, such as population distribution, and atmospheric pollution.

4) Continental Overview (82 pages) - this focuses on each continent, and examines phenomena observable from space that is relevant to a particular continent, such as seasonal variations, particular landscapes and their dynamics and the variation of the sea and shelf ice extent in the Polar Regions.

5) The Natural Sphere (60 pages) - this contains information about natural phenomena, focusing on key areas. There are sections on hydrology, geology, geomorphology, rifts, volcanism, etc

6) The Cultural Sphere (78 pages) - this contains information about human phenomena, such as land use, agricultural patterns, urban development, mining, energy, industry, and tourism, but also a number of natural and cultural World Heritage Sites are displayed and analysed.

Index (18 pages) - At the end of the Atlas there is an index of place names, and glossaries of remote sensing and geographical terms.

The Teachers' Handbook The Teachers' Handbook accompanying the ESA School Atlas provides an introduction to Earth Observation and a general description of each double page of the Atlas. For every image or thematic map, technical information on the data, as well as descriptions and interpretation aids are provided.

The purpose of the Teachers' Handbook is to support teachers in the use of the Atlas in the classroom.

For each double page there are exercises with detailed questions and activities for the teacher to use. The questions are in order of increasing complexity. They start with simple descriptive questions, then move on to more analytical questions requiring a greater degree of interpretation of satellite imagery, and finish with questions requiring summarising and evaluation of the topic shown by the satellite image.

In addition to these exercises, activities using the Eduspace image processing software LEOWorks are described. These exercises are published in full on the DVD-ROMs.


The two DVD-ROMs contain the pages of the ESA School Atlas in reduced resolution (PDF format), original bands of the satellite data, image processing software, descriptions and exercises. The images correspond with the maps in the atlas in the form of original data and thematic vector data.

The software tools allow to process and evaluate the image data and thus to arrive at new maps. The DVD's can be used in the classroom to accompany the learning process, where the students are studying the Atlas while the teacher, or a student, is demonstrating the images on a big screen.

Working with the exercises provided on the DVD-ROMs, a step-by-step approach to the methods and potential of satellite remote sensing, including cartographic design and interpretation, is possible. The Eduspace image processing software LEOWorks is used in the exercises in combination with the ESRI GIS software ArcExplorer.

The students can themselves construct their own colour combinations based on the different bands of the multispectral images. Using the digital images takes full advantage of the details in the images, and the results of the work of the students can reveal many more details than shown in the printed atlas. The exercises are a good example of putting students in the centre of the learning process by providing them with real data, good analytical tools and motivating guide lines.