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These Maps Reveal Earth’s Unspoiled Places

An underreported aspect of the climate crisis is that archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, biodiversity, and distributions of flora and fauna—much of which modern people will never even know about—are disappearing at an alarming rate. I’m an archaeologist, and while I don’t know how to solve the climate crisis, I do know what I want to contribute to our shared legacy: a comprehensive digital map of the surface of the planet and everything on it. Such a project will serve both as a record of the state of the planet as it exists now, to help scientists better understand how it is changing, and as a “virtual planet” that can serve as a precious gift for future generations.

In June, I and other like-minded scientists launched the Earth Archive: a massive scientific effort aiming to scan the entire solid surface of the planet, starting with the areas most threatened, at a resolution smaller than a meter. This effort aims to use lidar technology, or light detection and ranging technology, which can map both the vegetation and the ground beneath it in three dimensions from the vantage point of a plane, helicopter, or drone.

The notion of creating a digital Earth may not seem like

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