The private impact of public maps ‒ landsat satellite imagery and gold exploration.
For centuries, the availability of maps of under-explored geographies has provided new opportunities for innovators, and yet mapping as a channel to enable discovery has been rarely examined.
To shed light on this topic, I focus on the impact of the NASA Landsat satellite mapping program on shaping the level and distribution of new discoveries between firms in the gold exploration industry. I find that idiosyncratic gaps in mapping coverage (from technical failures and cloud-cover in satellite imagery) had important implications for gold exploration—firms were almost twice as likely to report the discovery of new deposits once regions were successfully mapped and the mapping program disproportionately supported discoveries from smaller, entrepreneurial firms, especially in regions with high quality local institutions.
These findings point to the important but underexamined role of mapping as an economic activity in shaping industry performance and entrepreneurship.