Aerial views offer new perspective of Himalayas

A US geography professor has created an atlas of computer generated aerial views of the Himalayas, available for all on the internet. The atlas contains over 700 life-like panoramas that offers climbers a unique view of the mountains they plan to climb.

“Seeing the Earth from a high place allows us to grasp quickly the essential geography of vast regions that eludes those who are earth bound,” says the atlas’ creator William Bowen, professor emeritus of the Department of Geography at California State University Northridge, United States.

In The Himalaya Atlas of Aerial Panoramas – Vol I , each panorama shows more than 259,000 hectares of the earth’s surface, together covering all of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and portions of Tibet and the lowlands of India.

“In this case, maybe strangely, ‘virtual reality’ gives us a more realistic image of the real world than real photos,” says UIAA board member Peter Farkas. “It’s because the view is unobstructed by clouds and atmospheric distortions, giving us much more details. By looking down from much higher points than usual we can better appreciate the vastness of the Himalayas.”

That was also Bowen’s idea: “My teaching experiences taught me that if students, or anyone else for that matter, cannot actually see something, it simply does not exist in their minds,” he says. “Photographs of my travels and traditional maps helped convey a sense of individual places, but not any feeling of geographic context or spatial relationships.”

Therefore he set out to make photo-realistically accurate aerial panoramas of the world, using satellite data. After creating the digital models of the landscapes, Bowen can move the computer’s point of observation and take digital snapshots from different angles. Most are taken at an elevation of 50 to 200 kilometres above sea level.

Bowen’s previous projects include aerial images of North America and two short animations of flights around Mount Everest and Cho Oyu. His next project is to produce a series of animated flights and create a second atlas volume for the ranges west of Nepal.

The maps can be viewed and used for all non-profit, educational purposes as long as Bowen’s authorship of the work is recognised and the copyright respected.