Data Services Adds Georeferenced Soviet Maps

The results of a crowd-sourced georectification project within Data Services have come to fruition as the NYU Spatial Data Repository has now released its rectified collection of topographic maps of Saudia Arabia and nearby regions. Produced by the Soviet military in 1978 at a 1:100,000 scale, the maps were compiled through a combination of aerial intelligence and on-the-ground observation. These maps are part of an endeavor, unknown in its extent at the time, that has been described as one of the “most comprehensive global topographic mapping project ever undertaken.”1 Among their striking features are the close detail available on each sheet.

The cities of Dhahran and Al Khobar in Saudia Arabia
The cities of Dhahran and Al Khobar in Saudia Arabia
Data Services team members and friends gathered for two sessions over the last few months to georectify the maps in the open-source GIS software QGIS. Using bounding coordinate information listed on the maps, 441 map tiles were rectified and reprojected so that they could be displayed and used in GIS software alongside other raster and vector layers in standard WGS 84 (i.e. the World Geodetic System 1984, the standard spatial reference system).

Although human settlement features can be found in detail throughout the collection, they also describe a range of environmental features with hundreds of distinguished land and land-use types from categories of agriculture to forest, grass, soil types, and even five types of sand. Coastal areas can be compared to current coastlines to measure erosion and sea-level changes. Not conversant in Russian? An in-depth technical manual prepared by the U.S. Army in English, and available with the collection, will be your guide. To view the collection with spatial preview, click here.

1 Alexander J. Kent and John M. Davies, “Hot Geospatial Intelligence from a Cold War: The Soviet Military Mapping of Towns and Cities.” Cartography and Geographic Information Science 40:3 (2013): 248.

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