Understanding Risk and Resilience to Natural Hazards

In this week’s podcast we talked to USGS Geographer Dr Nathan Wood. Located at the USGS Western Geographic Science Center, Nate discussed an array of research locations in the interview that revolved around helping communities understand their vulnerability or risk to natural hazards such as volcanoes, tsunamis and other hazards. In the interview he highlighted a recent informational publication titled Understanding Risk and Resilience to Natural Hazards available on the USGS website.

The document talks about the process of working with communities to make them aware of potential natural hazards risks in their area and provides examples from each of the west coast states, Hawai’i, and Florida.

Check it out to get more great information about Nate’s work at the USGS.

Your Spatial Backpack

When I was reading this month’s issue of Backpacker magazine, I started to fold down pages that contained geospatial apps and other features. After I had folded down most of the pages in this month’s magazine, I decided I would post some of my favorites. On their website, Backpacker has a section for app tools such as Backpacker Destinations which allows users to access trips and trails, save and upload trails, and share information via social media. There is a similar, less extensive type of app for Android called My Tracks which overlays routes onto Google maps. My favorite was the Backpacker Survival School which is like a course in being Bear Grylls. The iPad app teaches you what to do if you get lost or find yourself attacked by a bear. The magazine contained a full page ad for OpenCaching.com and their geocaching Bill of Rights.

New Jersey’s lost acres

It’s amazing how often life immitates blog. For a class on qualitative GIS, I put together a Google Earth narrative history of growing up in north west New Jersey. I started with an up close Google Earth view of the lush green forested mountains and rolling farmland hills that I think of when I think of my home state, but I didn’t actually say where I was from until I zoomed out to show the shape of NJ. If I could have found a heart shaped shape file to use, I would have. It is interesting to geospatially visualize the dramatic growth that has happened in New Jersey in a relatively short period of time.

This is why I enjoyed reading the New York Times article from August 2010 which reviews a report done on “Changing Landscapes in the Garden State” by Rowen and Rutgers Universities. Rowan University hosts an interactive companion site of animated maps from their report to illustrate two decades of urban growth and open space loss in New Jersey from 1986 through 2007. The report and interactive maps are part of an ongoing collaboration between the Geospatial Research Lab at Rowan University and the Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis at Rutgers University examining New Jersey’s urban growth and land use change.

The MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize

If you are a student team or professional start-up anywhere in the world, The MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize $100K Entrepreneurship Competition is now open. According to their website, “MIT student teams, other student teams, and professional start-up teams are eligible to participate in the Energy Track only. The process will include networking and team building events, professional mentoring and skills development, along with a unified judging process.” Entries are due February 28th and must include a 1,000 word business plan executive summary and small 10 page power point presentation. Their vision includes enabling technologies such as sensors and integrated systems or planning.

US Census 2010 data and redistricting

In about a month, the US Census Bureau will be releasing the 2010 Census data to states so that they can begin the process of redistricting for the House of Representatives, as well as state legislatures that use those boundaries for election districts. This process happens every ten years, and is a vital part of the process of governing here in the US. Redistricting is also an incredibly controversial political process, as political parties and other groups at all levels of government have a keen interest in how groups of voters are aggregated into districts. In the past, redistricting has often led to conflicts and lawsuits, as those with the power to make the redistricting maps can translate that power into electoral victories. Many people are at least familiar with the notion of gerrymandering, which is a term that dates back to the early 19th century, and refers to the deliberate drawing of electoral boundaries to try to increase a candidate’s or party’s chances of winning an election. There is even a new documentary film coming out called Gerrymandering, which is an in-depth look at mapping electoral districts and its impact on recent elections.

Continue reading “US Census 2010 data and redistricting”

Australian Flood Maps

Like many recent weather-related disasters, the media and on-line websites have started to increasingly use interactive maps to explain disasters such as Guardian UK and other news outlets coverage of the current Australian flooding. In most areas where flooding is a problem, flood maps are very important not only for planning, such as the work done by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, but also for insurance purposes. In fact, flood insurance has been a major topic of debate over the past few years in Australia, and GIS plays an important part in it as demonstrated in a 2009 ESRI Australia Insurance Flood Map and Risk Policy Pricing video.

The flooding reminded me of a 1988 science fiction disaster book I read called “The Drowning Towers” by distinguished Australian writer George Turner, which explored what would happen to society, if Australia flooded. It is considered one of the top science fiction novels of all time, but at the time it was written the idea of a flood on such a huge scale was considered to be unbelievable. It is interesting to me because disaster fiction always seems related to the geographical background of the person writing it, flooding has always been a very real problem in Australia. Corbis images has pictures of the Brisbane, Australia flood of 1893, Walking Melbourne has many historic photos includes ones of the 1863 flood, while the Australian Bureau of Meteorology provides a brief history of Queensland floods.

Finally, a national appeal has been started to raise funds, accept donations, and provide resources through the Queensland government.

Sustainable Seafood App

There are many restaurant apps around that rely on users to input location on their locale or sites they visit to create a national or international database.

The most recent one I have found out about is The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood WATCH Project FishMap which asks users to share information on the locations of restaurants and markets for sustainable seafood. It provides seafood pictures and a list of seafood that is ocean friendly.

According to the Seafood WATCH website, they make
recommendations using science-based, peer reviewed, and ecosystem-based criteria. They state that “Since 1999, we’ve distributed tens of millions of pocket guides, our iPhone application has been downloaded more than 240,000 times, and we have close to 200 partners across North America, including the two largest food service companies in the U.S.”

The downloads and partners are important because voluntary apps are only as useful as the quantity of participants and quality/reliability of the information they enter.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

In 2008, Sue posted about the U.S. Department of Energy‘s National Renewable Energy Laboratory Atlas that was in development. I ran across the completed NREL FTP site with geospatial toolkits and GIS data by the NREL GIS team. They analyze wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other energy resources and provide corresponding GIS data. This includes a beta version of their MapSearch of maps created by the team. I had the honor of attending (sitting in the audience) a surprisingly tense and exciting National Middle School Science Bowl many years ago, so it was interesting to find out that NREL manages the National Middle School Science Bowl for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

The Best Landmarks in the US Nobody Visits

When you travel around the US there are lots of interesting landmarks to see.  Unfortunately, only a few get the top billing.  Not to disparage the Grand Canyon’s and Jamestown’s of the country, but there are some great places to see that get lost in the limelight.  Checkout this list from Matador Trips of the 20 Overlooked National Landmarks in the US.  For anyone attending AAG in Seattle this year, note the Seattle Underground if you’re looking for something neat to see while you’re in the city!

I imagine other countries must have similar ‘hidden’ or ‘forgotten’ landmarks.  Put any suggestions in the comments section and I’ll be happy to add them to this post!

More holiday treats for the geographer in your life

I know I have been scarce on the blog recently while I try to balance the whole new professor thing with all the other fun stuff in my life, but I had to add my picks for your holiday shopping this year.

My first pick is a great resource that I have already used to get some cool gifts this year – Zazzle’s Library of Congress collection. This is an amazing collaboration between the Library of Congress, who have made parts of their digital collections of historical photographs, maps, and other documents available, and Zazzle, which is an online retail site that lets you custom-design your own t-shirts, mugs, posters, ties, sneakers and tons of other products using images available on the site or your own. For my own gifts, I created posters from Civil War photographs that I’ve previously only seen in books, and they turned out beautifully. There are also tons of maps that are crying out to be made into posters, iPhone and iPad case, aprons, mugs, you name it. If you’d like to make your own stuff, you can upload any kind of image and customize it on Zazzle’s products. It’s pretty inexpensive, too, so check it out!

My second pick is a cool product that I found out about from a recent Facebook post by James Fee, so thanks to James! It’s Pistil SF’s Map Styles map blankets, cool fleece blankets with prints of city maps using OSM data, in collaboration with CloudMade and Stamen Design. The two styles, Midnight Commander and Candymaps are both cool, but I definitely prefer the dark blue look of Midnight Commander. You can get them customized to any address, and you just specify what you need during the order process. They’ll even send you a jpeg of your chosen location for final approval. The only possible negative to these beautiful blankets is their price, which is a hefty $175 for a 62×50 lightweight fleece blanket. They’re amazing, though, so if price is no issue for you, definitely snap one up!

My third recommendation is to check out cool map and geography-themed gifts from a number of online retailers. For example, Uncommon Goods has about 30 map-themed products that are reasonably priced, including a scratch-off map that shows where you’ve visited, a necklace of the world’s continents and other map jewelry, and city and country themed pillows. Cafepress, which is like Zazzle and offers personalized products like t-shirts, hats, mugs and other goodies, also has lots of fun geography-themed merchandise. My favorites – the Eat, Sleep, Geography t-shirt and I have to throw in our very own Got Map? wall clock

There are also great geography themed gifts out there in cool little shops, so venture out beyond the interwebs and the malls, and who knows what you’ll find!