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 news that NASA discovered a new type of microorganism has overshadowed new findings on Pluto. The Christian Science Monitor presents both sides of the debate, “Should Pluto be Restored as a Planet?” According to Mike Wall from Space.com, Pluto was found to be slightly larger than Eris, the entity that supplanted it, re-opening the debate if it should be restored as a full-fledged planet. Discovery News details the method used to compare the size of Eris and Pluto. In several articles Mike Brown, who discovered Eris and wrote the appropriately titled book, “How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming” states that the most important part of the discovery isn’t about size but the fact that Eris is much denser than Pluto and thus a totally different composition and origin. In his posts on Mike Brown’s Planets he describes the Skymapper project to survey the whole southern skies by Australian National University.
This post was written as a guest post for the MyWonderfulWorld blog for Geography Awareness Week. Be sure to head over and check out more of the MWW blog-a-thon for GAW.
Continuing Geography Awareness Week, we would like to talk about a topic that brings together geospatial technologies (it is GIS Day after all) with this year’s Geography Awareness Week theme of Freshwater. Water quality assessment is a crucial issue in many parts of the world due to causes such as pollution in manufacturing countries, scarcity in arid regions, and issues of access in urban areas. While Earth Observation Day is still a few months away (April 8, 2011), we wanted to take a look at geographic information gathered from remote sensing technologies to understand how this imagery can be used in studying water quality and other water-related issues.
There are a number of remote sensing studies that have taken advantage of spectral responses of specific phenomena to look at how light of different wavelengths can capture various water quality issues including sediments suspended in water, algae blooms, aquatic plants, and water temperature. Additional studies of these spectral responses have also been used to derive information on salinity (pdf) , water clarity, and other water topics. The United States and the European Union, for instance, both have water quality mandates that have been supported through the use of remote sensing imagery, and they are not alone in the use of such imagery to address this need.
In addition to studies that look at water quality, remotely sensed data has also been used to support a wide range of studies that deal with other water issues, such as identifying spatial changes in water bodies, by providing researchers with detailed views of an area. For example, remotely sensed data has been crucial in monitoring the contraction of the Aral Sea in central Asia, as well as other important bodies of water throughout the world. Other examples include mapping oil spills such as the spill this past summer in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill or change detection to track snow pack or glacial melt.
While information derived from aerial or satellite images can support the large area assessment of surface water sources, it is often supported through the use of other location information/technologies. In-situ sensors are used by agencies such as the USGS. A network of fixed location sensors is maintained that can be used to ground truth certain aspects of water quality. In the case of studies that look at locations other than those with static location sensors, GPS receivers are used to record locations, such as in the case of randomly sampled ground truth test sites.
Of course, the information that is captured and classified using remote sensing can be fused with other types geographic information to provide users and consumers with a contextual, and often richer, understanding of water quality issues. An article from the Summer 2009 issue of Imaging Notes, for example, talks about some of the GIS tools that are used in water quality modeling. The wealth of tools that can be brought to bear to assess water quality issues are growing and now include a number of geospatial technologies. So remember, even though we only celebrate Geography Awareness Week and GIS Day once a year, there are many amazing resources and research projects out there that utilize remotely-sensed information to help us understand and try to solve many of today’s pressing environmental issues, including water quality and availability.
For those who are not aware Earth Science Week is just around the corner, October 10-16. A good portion of Geography looks at the physical environment and its components…aka is Earth Science. Basically it gives us another week to push Geography awareness. But instead of the focus on human-environment interaction that we trend towards in November, Earth Science Week gives us a chance to talk about some of the physical geography basics. While we have talked about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as being connected to Geography broadly, this is where some of the most notable connections exist. Earth Science Week gives us a chance to highlight weather, climate, geomorphology, biogeography and all of the goodness in between. Not only does it cover a breadth of topics, but also numerous methods and techniques. Whether you want to model the environment using computers, do some hands on lab work, or pull your hiking boots out of the closet and head to the field, don’t forget to take advantage of Earth Science Week to highlight the fact that Geography is all about the Earth, science and all.
To mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating landfall in the Gulf Coast, NASA Earth Science has released this short video retrospective of some of the imagery and analyses that were used to track and visualize Hurricane Katrina
Previously we’ve posted about Pleistocene Park, and a similar project in Scotland that are aimed at recreating the fauna and flora of the Pleistocene Era by setting aside protected areas that are kept ‘wild’. Oostvaardersplassen, a park in the Netherlands, has created a similar preserve, using Konik horses and Heck cattle to give a feel for similar, but extinct, Pleistocene herbivores like the tarpan and European bison and elk. The landscape is mostly open grasslands, with small copses of trees. Currently, the Oostvaardersplassen is an isolated nature preserve, but you can take a train ride that passes through the park, and there are plans to open a natural corridor to a forest area in Zeewolde.
There is some controversy over efforts like Oostvaardersplassen, including issues of whether to truly leave these areas to nature, even when harsh winters might kill significant portions of the wildlife in such parks or when animals become sick and injured. What do you think? Do preserves like Oostvaardersplassen and Pleistocene Park really give a us a chance to glimpse a vanished landscape?
Here’s a short video of Oostervaardersplassen that gives you a good idea of what the landscape and wild horse herds are like:
Anyone who talks to me about energy will quickly learn I’m a HUGE fan of offshore wind energy. So this news item in the New York Times caught my eye pretty quick – regulators have approved the US’s first offshore windfarm. As the opponents point out in the article, this is just one of several hurdles that have to be overcome before it becomes reality, but it’s a pretty big one. Several other countries have experimented with this stuff with pretty good successes, so I have a lot of high hopes for US versions.
On a side note, has anyone ever wondered why windmills have three arms? Turns out there’s a good engineering reason behind it all. Slate has a good article talking about the engineering benefits of various designs. The basic punchline is that three blades have the optimal energy output, environmental impact, and manufacturing costs we seek in a good windmill. If manufacturing costs decrease with better processes, two blade systems might make more sense.
Apparently Dennis Quaid was wrong… the gulf stream is not slowing down as some climate change models (and over the top eco-adventure movies) predict. Apparently the belief this might happen is a victim of the age old measurement error. Initial measurements suggested the slow down. It turns out over a longer period of time, there is no slow down, just an awful lot of variability from year to year. Scientists are continuing to monitor the flow in attempt to collect more data to confirm these latest findings. On top of that, they hope to figure out what causes the variability, which in and of itself is rather puzzling.
As an aside, what I find fascinating is the sheer magnitude of these sorts of issues. We’re talking attempts to understand and predict phenomena on a global scale and time scales approaching geologic time. That’s a seriously challenging task and more power to all the scientists out there trying to tackle it head on!
Wired news is reporting that modern GPS sensors have be able to determine the Chilean city of Concepcion has been moved 10 feet to the west from the recent earthquake. Apparently this area is prime area for seismic activity due to its location over a subduction zone. The hope by researchers is to quickly get more GPS stations on the ground in that area so more precise movements can be detected.
On my twitter feed this morning, @geoparadigm tweeted this great link on tree hugger about Twenty-Two Maps That Will Change How You See The World. The maps are pretty impressive, although I’m not sure it will change how many of us in the geospatial community sees the world. Being tree hugger and all, most of them are environmental in nature. However the thing that most interested me was that the vast majority of the entries are actually interactive maps, not static maps. If you ask me, the fact that these world view changing maps are primarily interactive shows a whole new world in and of itself. Perhaps the greatest change is the need to move from the static to the dynamic in our maps themselves.