The European Space Agency has unveiled what it's calling "the most detailed portraits of the Earth's land surface ever created". It uses satellite imagery to create images so detailed as to put Google Earth and Windows Live Maps to shame.

The portraits are the first products produced as part of the ESA-initiated GlobCover project and are available online .

Around 40 terabytes of imagery - ''an amount of data equivalent to the content of 40 million books '' - were acquired between December 2004 and June 2006. This was then processed to generate the global image composites.

It works by taking thousands of images and using details from each one to make a single, immensely high resolution composite

High res images

The composites will support the international community in modelling climate change extent and impacts, studying ecosystems and plotting worldwide land-use trends.

This method of image capturing differs from the way Google and Windows Live do it. These services use aeroplanes to fly over terrain and capture photos, instead of using satellites.