The ZSL London Zoo

The ZSL London Zoo‘s annual census of every zoo animal as part of their zoo license renewal is an example of how to turn a seemingly routine geospatial task into international news. The media and public discuss the event in a way that evokes the celebration of an annual holiday like Ground Hog’s day. While the zoo keepers use clipboards to count each animal in the field,  it is logged into the International Species Information System (ISIS) software to manage international breeding programs for endangered animals from zoos around the world.  ZSL London Zoo participates in breeding programs for 130 species. An interactive map on the ZSL London Zoo website gives visitors an idea of the animals being counted during the census. It is a great way to highlight the work of everyone involved and introduce them to aspects of zoo management beyond watching animals.

The Zoological Society of London opened the London Zoo as the world’s first scientific zoo in 1828 and continues to add new technology, innovations, and discoveries as they develop.They award a scientific medal, like the one awarded to Prof. Simon Hay for his work investigating the spatial and temporal aspects of mosquito born disease epidemiology and manages the Malaria Atlas Project to improve cartography of malaria.  It is one of several different divisions that fall under the Zoological Society’s umbrella including the Whipsnade Zoo and the ZSL Institute of Zoology. The Zoological Society utilizes geospatial professionals in capacities from Dr. Chris Yesson‘s work on phyloclimatic modeling and classes in GIS to field scientists using remote sensing data donated by GeoEye for gorilla conservation. The ZSL created the EDGE Evolutionary Distinct & Globally Endangered program as a global conservation effort to protect species with unique evolutionary history using Google Earth to create awareness and interest. The ZSL encourages partnerships, collaborations, and opportunities for citizen science and volunteers on their website.

Forensic GIS: A Fast Growing Profession and CFP

The geospatial methods and technologies used in Forensic GIS are finally catching up to popular depictions in movies and television. Although most of the analysis done on shows like CSI is footwork done by geospatial professionals and not solely by a near omnipotent computer program. I have often debated the impact of the large number of forensic procedurals in popular T.V.,  movies, and books.  Mainly because the word GIS and mapping never seems to be used, even though that is the method being demonstrated. However, that will probably change considering the integration of Forensic GIS into the everyday practices around the world.

Forensic GIS has been used for many years in crime mapping around the world. Companies such as CSIR in New Zealand have used GIS and cell phone data to provide forensic evidence for criminal cases. GIS is used in every part of the investigation process creating jobs in the public, private, and university sectors. New jobs like GIS Analysis Expert Witness support for litigation have been created for companies like Digital Data Service or Geographic Resource Solutions which provides wildfire litigation. Other facets of forensic GIS include fraud dection, crime scene data , geospatial modeling in civil law suits, accident simulation, and for agency collaboration.

According to American Sentinel University, GIS and geospatial skills are a critical part of forensic science education today.  Many of these programs are offered at all levels of education from certificate programs to undergraduate, masters, and Ph. D.  It has led to innovation that serves the needs of forensic analysists in a unique way.  The Ohio State University Police Division used GIS mapping software to detect patterns inside human bones. Fellowships also exist for established professionals such as the  The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory, which provides a five course fellowship to assist in excavation and identification in Laos or Vietnam.  If you watch the  popular T.V. show Bones, this is the program that the main forensic scientist was involved in helping.  The U.S. Department of Justice and Crime Mapping Research Center provide an online Mapping Crime: Principle and Practice Book, which explains crime mapping from context, to methods, application, and ethics for law enforcement and others.

One of the ways to build up credibility and make it into the public and professional consciousness is to provide case studies of the real day to day work done by GIS professionals and any other type of GIS professional in the field. Many times people in the field think that calls for papers, book chapters, conferences, and journals are only for academics or journalists, however these same publications often have a hard time finding examples of real world projects to discuss. The same is true of other media such as television and online newspapers, who contact professionals and organizations that are visible. One of the most permanent ways to increase visibility and credibility is to publish in some format – editorials, blogs, conference papers, professional journals, popular press, and of course textbooks in the field.

If you are one of the many public, private, or academic professionals involved in the growing field of forensic GIS, there is a call for chapter proposals and chapter section contributions that can be considered for inclusion in the book at Forensic GIS: The Role of Geospatial Technologies for Investigating Crime and Providing Evidence, which is scheduled to be published by Springer in its popular Geotechnologies and the Environment series. The deadline is Friday, December 14, 2012.  Forensic GIS the profession is catching up to the popular perception of Forensic GIS the T.V. profession, share your real world applications and experiences with the next generation of Forensic GIS students.

What File Compression Is The Curiosity Rover Using?

It’s fair to say we over at VerySpatial are big space nerds. And it’s fair to say we’re also pretty big remote sensing nerds. When the guys over at BoingBoing got to ask any question they wanted, they asked a pretty cool one about file compression (scroll down to see the answer). Sending images from Mars and back takes a bit of work and time, which means file compression has to be used. But we all know that we want as loss less file compression as possible, so what’s NASA to do? They turned to a custom implementation that uses a wavelet approach similar to Jpeg 2000. The difference in their compression is that it’s less computationally intensive, which means lower powered CPUs (both in computing and energy needs) can be used to create the compressed images. Pretty cool, huh?

The top 10 fictional organizations that need to use ArcGIS online

After the ESRI User’s Conference Plenary, I began to think about the many fictional organizations that would benefit from using ArcGIS online and other GIS technologies. So I began compiling a top 10 list by asking other attendees, ESRI employees, and organizations at booths on the conference center floor. Which fictional organization do you think is in the most dire need of using ArcGIS online or GIS in general.

Top Ten Organizations that need to use ArcGIS online

1. Eureka!/Warehouse 13

The overwhelmingly number 1 suggestion, which is also the first one I thought of, is the parent organization that runs the town of Eureka and Warehouse 13.  They are both awesome tv shows which showcase the power of science and technology, but they are desperately missing any form of GIS.  Most of the problems they face fall into two categories: 1) Scientists didn’t realize that projects they were working on individually, usually within proximity of each other, would interact in a way that would spell DOOM., 2) Scientists didn’t realize that projects they have been working on individually could have been integrated and collaborated together to prevent The End of the World, until the very last minutes of the show.  They could be a case study in why a large organization spread out over the world needs ArcGIS online.

2 – 4. The number 2 suggestions all fell into the realm of, all ethics aside…, because these organizations are not working towards the good of mankind, like all the organizations showcased in the ESRI plenary. Instead, they are organizations that could use ArcGIS online to make their nefarious organizations more effective.

2. District 9

3.  The Hunger Games/ Panem Districts

4. Lost/ Dharma Initiative

5-6. These organizations and some not listed (Like the IMF from Mission Impossible) are intelligence related agencies that have a habit of losing people or things that lead to big problems. Cloud mapping or on-line mapping would be very useful to them to keep track of all of their differenct cells, groups, and projects.

5. The Bourne Legacy/  Operation Outcome

6. Phineas & Ferb

7. & 8.  Daily Planet (Superman) /Daily Bugle (Spiderman).   For internationally recognized newspapers of record, the Daily Planet and the Daily Bugle operate like old gumshoe type newspapers instead of the technology driven newsrooms of today’s modern media – news is location driven. They need to use ArcGIS online just to collaborate on stories about Superman and Spiderman alone. Speaking of which, wouldn’t the Justice League operate more effectively using it as well?

9. The Day After Tomorrow. There is a special place in the heart of scientists for the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow because on one hand it is an enjoyable movie, but on the other hand, they got so much of the science wrong. They could have used ArcGIS online and ArcPad several times throughout the movie, especially when they would hold up a handheld device, look at a sky map, and declare  – “I know where I’m going. The library is that way!”

10. Caddy Shack/ Bushwood Country Club . The top 10 fictional organization that needs ArcGIS Online is the Bushwood Country Club from Caddy Shack.  There wouldn’t have been so many extra holes on the golf course, if they had used cloud computing to report any unusual gopher activity.

Honorable mentions: I would like to mention another two organizations that people mentioned could benefit from ArcGIS online or other product.

11. The Big Bang Theory/Harold Walowitz. It has been pointed out that Harold Walowitz spends a lot of time developing technology for space. It makes sense that he would be working with remote sensing.

12. Diablo III.  Would there be a Diablo III video game if Cain was able to hold onto his knapsack that contained important information or if people could report finding Cain’s knapsack and uploading the location and his research. They could have analyzed it all via ArcGIS online and solved the game in half the time. Or maybe that is just my own frustration at being stuck on Level 11.

Do you have any suggestions for companies that could have benefited from using ArcGIS online or other GIS products?


Landsat Program turns 40

Landsat, the moderate-resolution imagery satellite program that we all know and love, turns forty today. In 1972, Landsat 1 was launched with new technologies that along with its successors would lead the world, over the intervening years, to a better understanding of the environment, human impacts, and, perhaps most importantly today, human/environment interaction.

With access to the ever increasing spectral resolution through the MultiSpectral Sensor (MSS) and Thematic Mapper (TM) instrument packs we discovered, mapped, and used information about longterm, and short-term, change to reflect on everything from land use and land cover to soil moisture and water issues to viewing these multiband images and the landscape they represent as art. While the Landsat Program is not alone in these endeavors, it does deserve special recognition for its longevity, durability (Landsat 5, a workhorse even if it isn’t capturing TM data any longer), and initiative in leading many areas of the remote sensing/earth observation industry of today.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is its accessibility. From getting disks from EROS Data Center to recent initiatives that brought the referenced data online for download, the Landsat program has helped industry, researchers, teachers, and students all look at the world in a new way, often with a broader perspective.

Here’s to the Landsat Program’s first 40 years, and, with the much anticipated launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (or simply Landsat 8) just around the corner in 2013, here is to many more years of moderate-resolution data to come.

Happy Birthday Landsat!

All tied up: Remote Sensing

A year after the introductory post to my “All tied up” series I am actually releasing my next post. In the intervening year terms have, if anything, become even more interwoven with many of us often going to the now de facto ‘geospatial technologies’ to explain the wealth of technologies and data that we pull out of the toolbox and database for any given project. The term that has most been hidden by this (in my opinion, with no easy way to back it up) is Remote Sensing. By Remote Sensing I refer to what Lillesand and Keifer define as “The science and art of obtaining information…acquired by a device that is not in contact with the object…”.

This is a very broad definition and it captures all of the ways in which remotely sensed information is captured, but here I will narrow it down to those raster-based data (and occasionally point cloud data) that are captured from a distance. We can easily include photogrammetry (planes, balloons, etc) and satellite remote sensing capturing everything from panchromatic to hyperspectral images.

While we are on ‘what it is’ I will include what may get lumped in occasionally. Remote sensing is not all sensor data from remote locations. While the term is not incorrectly used, it is not always the same since some of these sensors are in direct contact with what they are measuring (stream gauges, temperature sensors, etc). So in a Venn diagram there is a large overlap between sensors located remotely and remote sensing instruments, but they are not completely overlapping sets. Kind of an aside, but I wanted to make a Venn diagram.

Getting back to remote sensing, there are two ways to look at the term. One is that it isn’t so much tied up, but largely absent in the industry today. In many areas, imagery has become the term of choice and, of course, the backdrop in our web maps, cartographic products, etc. In these projects and products we talk about imagery, but its source has become an almost unimportant aspect of some work. The other way we look at remote sensing is definitely one that is tied up in GIS. Many, many moons ago you had raster software and vector software and much of that raster geospatial software was driven by remote sensing activities, but that has changed (I think we can agree, for the better) in the GIS space as vector and raster has come together. As discussions with some of the leading remote sensing software vendors on the podcast have shown they are inline with, or even making tools available directly within, GIS software packages. We have lost the divide between GIS and Remote Sensing which having to switch between applications gave us. The separation continues to fade in terms of the software arena.

What does standout in terms of Remote Sensing, not tangled up if you will, is the hardware used to capture imagery (from satellite to helicopter to kite to drone…) and the data itself. This content continues to push our industry forward as we can collect both broad swath information that pushes science forward (e.g. moderate resolution data) and we continue to create sensors with ever-finer resolution and higher accuracy and precision (e.g. lidar). These data, as mentioned, are seen now more than ever with web maps and virtual globes, but it is the analytical potential that they offer, whether resulting in time series, human/environment processes, or finding archaeological sites, that are the strength of our investment in remote sensing platforms and data.

We will cut the strings there, as raster analysis is another set of terms that have been tied together as well. But keep in mind as you are doing your research or projects that your imagery is the result of over a century of research in capturing and manipulating images from a distance. While we have begun to take the technologies for granted in some cases, remote sensing remains an integral part of many areas of the industry.

Panoramic View of Angel Falls, Venezuela

We’ve featured AirPano before on the site, but a set they’ve put up just took my breath away.  They have a wonderful 360 degree air panoramic of Angel Falls in Venezuela.  You can see these falls from the base on up to the top of the waterfall.  The waterfall drops water nearly a half a mile to the ground.  It’s just amazing.  I really liked being able to start at the bast of the fall and virtually travel up via helicopter to the top.  If you’re really interested in some of the details of the shoot, the link also has a bit of a pholoblog of the shoot and the area.

Unfortunately most of us won’t have the opportunity to see majestic sites like this in person, so effort
s like the AirPano project can really help us see our amazing world in ways never before possible.  Not everything on the site is geographic (the ‘being a sandwich‘ one is kinda quirky), but the vast majority cover sites around the globe.  Take some time to explore what they have – I think you’ll be blown away by the sites.

Data Fusion Contest

The 2012 IEEE GRSS Data Fusion Contest is up and running and something that you should think about participating in. While with ever increasing spatial and spectral resolutions in the variety of imagery and elevation data available now-a-days has reduced the need for certain data fusion products, it is also creating new opportunities to fuse the new data options. This year’s contest is based on data made available by Astrium, Digital Globe, and the USGS CLICK.

The Data Fusion Contest is designed to investigate the potential of multi-modal/multi-temporal fusion of very high spatial resolution imagery. This year, participants will download three different sets of images (optical, SAR, and LIDAR) over the downtown of San Francisco and each participant will get to choose their own research topic to work with.

The contest is open to everyone and the deadline for submission (of the paper) is May 1, 2012. The entry details and prize list are available on the contest website.

Good Luck!

Conserving the Night Sky

Is your portion of the night sky polluted by artificial light?  Check out this really slick Google Map interface I found on the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) web site .  For over 22 years, the IDA has been advocating to keep our night sky clean of light pollution.  Their reasons go beyond astronomy purposes and have provided resources for legislation that would both reduce night sky lighting and provide very large amounts of energy savings to the global economy.

Find A Dark Spot Tonight
Click on the image to go directly to map viewer

Data for the map comes from the NGDC, where you can find some links to more interactive maps and other imagery services.