GIS and California: The Alarming Revelation

Another guest post by this semester’s journalism intern.

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, are computer systems that allow individuals to map, model, and analyze large amounts of data through a single database. Recently, through the help of GIS maps, significant data have turned up some alarming realizations in regards to a very crucial and life-changing matter: water supply. This new information shows how important the use of GIS is, and how it is utilized in a matter that can effect everyday living.

Californians have a lot to worry about nowadays on top of the mudslides, wildfires, and battles with oil companies. The state referred to by some as “unsustainable” has always had issues with water supply. Now, with new information brought forth by NASA scientists, a strict and frightening op-ed has been released to Californians regarding their water: The state only has about one year of water supply left.

Other information also found by NASA satellites indicate that water basins in Sacramento and San Joaquin are 34 million acre-feet below normal compared to the 2014 year, which started October 1, 2013 and ended September 30, 2014. With it being the hottest year yet for California, water gages from The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California indicate that last year was mostly responsible for damage to the water supply for the state, and the lack of snowfall and overall precipitation didn’t help the drought. The Sierra Nevada (Sacramento) is responsible for more than 60 percent of water supply to the state. It sources drinking water for 23 million people, and irrigation water for agricultural land.
Continue reading “GIS and California: The Alarming Revelation”

NASA, Big Data, and a Real World Jigsaw Puzzle

NASA has posted two news items that illustrate the large amounts of data that they are generating. NASA| The Data Downpour is a  video describing how the GPM constellation turns observed radiances and reflectivities of global precipitation – falling snow and rain – into data products.  They detail this huge task in “GPM Mission’s How-to Guide for Making Global Rain Maps“. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight CenterPrecipitation Processing System (Greenbelt, Maryland)  is tasked with compiling remote sensing data from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.  The  data set will eventually become one unified global data set.  A simplified version of a very exacting process, as any geospatial professional will tell you. Continue reading “NASA, Big Data, and a Real World Jigsaw Puzzle”

Cornell Lab of Ornithology YardMap beta

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has introduced some very exciting backyard citizen science applications that utilize remote sensing data. One of them is The YardMap citizen science project funded by the National Science Foundation Information Education Program  or advancing informal STEM Learning (AISL), as it is known now. YardMap is designed to cultivate a richer understanding of bird habitat, for both professional scientists and people concerned with their local environments. It is also a great way to make your yard bird friendly.  So far they have had 8098 YardMaps drawn using the YardMap Tool.

 

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Spatial Easter Egg Hunts

Easter Basket with Easter EggsLocation-based technologies are helping Easter Egg hunts go high-tech with the assistance of geospatial professionals taking their love of spatial technologies into their communities.

The funniest quote from an article in the Fairbanks News-Miner about how “To Hunt Easter Eggs the modern way, Fairbanks students grab GPS” is “When students in Kuntz’s multi-grade class raised the idea of holding an Easter egg hunt with their buddies, fourth-grader Tanja Gens volunteered her mother, Anupma Prakash, to lead it. Prakash is a professor of Remote Sensing Geology and Geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.”  The North Central Ohio Geocachers hosted a “Hunt Easter Eggs with GPS Units” event at The Crawford Park District. Danbury Park in Essex UK held a GPS Easter Egg Hunt for their Young Rangers.

Some towns are holding GPS Easter Egg Hunts for fun and to increase tourism. Many of these are more challenging than regular Easter Egg Hunts. They charge per team and require teams to bring their own handheld GPS unit. The town of Ninety Six held a GPS Easter Egg Hunt at Lake Greenwood State Park. The Vermillion River Reservation in Lorain County held one. The Northern Life Canada found that the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area combined “Easter Eggs, GPS, and Nature” into an Earth Day EGG-Stravaganza. Even REI Outdoor Outfitters held a class on Family Geocaching: Easter Egg Hunt.

Cherry Blossom Season 2014

japanese_cherryblossomsOne of the heralds of spring in our region is the arrival of the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C.  In the past, it was difficult to time visits just right in time to see them in bloom. The Washington Post has made a crowd sourced map for Cherry Blossom Season 2014 all around the DC area.

The Washington Post make it easy to post geotagged #DCblooms photos via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Phoebe Connelly, one of the map creators, created easy to follow instructions on “How to geotag Cherry Blossom Festival photos and videos on Twitter, Instagram“.  A nice service that many media sites leave out of their crowd sourcing events, which makes crowd sourcing more accessible to the general population and useful as a collaborative learning tool.

The Technical Services Department at Casey Trees, a tree preservation non-profit in Washington D.C. created a  “Mapping the Blossoms” tool which identifies each individual cherry tree in the D.C. Tidal Basin along with its background information who it was planted by and its geographic coordinates. 

Japan’s National Tourism Site has a beautiful “The Bloom of Cherry Blossoms 2014” interactive map which combines usefulness with beautiful cartography. The most amazing Cherry Blossom Season map is Google Street View Guide to Japan: Sakura Edition.

 

Geospatial Analysis of “America’s Forgotten Nuclear Legacy”

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting in-depth report on Waste Lands: America’s Forgotten Nuclear Legacy and an interactive map of the status of cleanup by state. While they call the interactive map an “interactive database” in their document on The Journal’s Methodology, it is good to see such in-depth meta-data and open methodology being used by a news site. They discuss where they found their data, how they used it, and missing data.

The Waste Lands project is also a venture into citizen science and digital humanities because, “Now that this database has been released to the public, the Journal welcomes additional information on these sites from the public. Send relevant tips, photographs, and documents to wastelands@wsj.com

Other than not using the words spatial, geospatial, geography, or spatial database anywhere in the project, it is an excellent example of how interactive maps can be a part of the investigative journalism process and not just a visual that draws the eye to an article.

Cat Tracks

The BBC News Science & Environment section has an article on “The Secret Life of the cat: What do our feline companions get up to?” with an interactive map of cats in a Surrey Village. It was created by BBC Two’s Horizon Program and researchers at the Royal Veterinary College. It is based on a study by Dr. Alan Wilson, an animal movement specialist, at the Structure & Motion Laboratory at the Royal Veterinary College. In his article, “Secret Life of the Cat: The Science of Tracking Our Pets“, he provides information on the technical challenges of using GPS to track domestic cats. Like many scientists working in the field, Dr. Wilson has had to develop his own tracking equipment in order to study the movement of pigeons, sheep, cheetahs, wild dogs, and of course, cats. He is currently working on developing unmanned arial vehicles for remote sensing and movement tracking. Cats are a great way to introduce the public to interactive mapping, tracking, and geospatial concepts because cats and birds are the most popular pets in the world.

The combination of cat popularity and GPS even resulted in a best selling book, “Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology” about a writer’s determination to find out what her cat did when he went off into the “wild”.  CNET has a good video, “Using GPS to Track Exactly Where Cats Creep“, about how the authors learned to track Tibi.  The convoluted way they had to map his tracks illustrates the need for education on using GIS or an easy to use cat GIS, to go along with the easy to use cat tracking GPS market.

Great Garden Worm Count

The Guardian article, “The Great Garden Worm Count Finds Our Underground Allies are Thriving” discusses the role of citizen scientists in earth worm research. According to the article, “The discovery was made thanks to a series of projects carried out by the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) project and has involved more than 40,000 teams of school pupils and homeowners digging up worms and counting them.”  As part of their mission, OPAL has worked with a diverse group of citizen scientists to encourage the public to become engaged with their local natural environment. David Jones, the earthworm scientist from the Natural History Museum who designed the survey, explained how he uses the data the citizen scientists collect for the 2012 worm count. It provides a good overview of the interaction of the public and scientists working together to address interesting and overlapping concerns.

Other organizations around the world, such as the Great Lakes Worm Watch, collaborate with the public to do earth worm sampling.  The hands-on sampling methods they describe will be familiar to many biologists, gardeners,fisherman, and little kids. For example, the flip and strip is used to determine the density of earthworms on an area basis and involves flipping rocks and logs, while the hand sample involves digging up a shovel full of soil and hand sifting it to count and identify earth worms.

Both the OPAL and Great Lakes Worm Watch come up in a project search using the scistarter: science we can do together  science site which allows scientists to post collaborative projects and for interested individuals, groups, and educators to participate in projects.

Interactive Greenbelt Map

The Telegraph UK has an article on England’s Green Belt which provides an interactive Google map for residents to determine if they are in an area classified as green belt land. The most interesting part of the article is that it makes the data available to the public and states that in the past the data would have cost thousands of bounds despite the fact that it is funded using taxpayer money. It then provides a link to the downloadable data provided by The Department for Communities and Local Government.  This is a common debate among the GIS community, but not one that is normally brought up in popular media. It will be interesting to see the comments left by the public about the article and if the topic of available data comes up.