Beyond vectors: Adapting remote sensing research for environmental monitoring with open source hardware and software: Citizen mapping the BP oil spill with balloons and kites

Session Type: 
Tech Session
Stewart Long, Public Laboratory
Shannon Dosemagen

Grassroots Mapping (, an online network of participatory, community-based mapping projects, was established in early 2010, just prior to the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster. In response to the spill, the grassroots mapping community worked with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a New Orleans based non-profit, to carry out volunteer mapping trips to affected areas of the Gulf Coast. Using low cost kites and balloons with consumer point and shoot cameras attached, volunteers with minimal training collected imagery by land and sea beginning in April 2010. Tens of thousands of images were collected over this period of time on over 50 mapping missions. The images were processed, orthorectified, and stitched into maps using GDAL and other FOSS4G tools. A new FOSS4G tool for processing raw aerial imagery into maps, Cartagen Knitter, was developed for this project by Jeffrey Warren of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media. This collaborative effort has resulted in dozens of high resolution maps made available to the public for use without restriction. Typical map resolutions range from 3-7 cm per pixel compared to 100 cm per pixel for Google Maps or similar online map products. Additional benefits include data ownership, temporal relativity, and a greater understanding of related issues by volunteers due to the participatory nature of the effort.n

Speaker Bio: 

Neogeography and the desire to create on-demand aerial image maps inspired Stewart Long to found Gonzo Earth, an aerial imaging service based company focused on acquiring and/or remotely processing aerial image data with a focus on large scale maps. High resolution orthomosaic projects such as an 8 Gigapixel 2009 map of Burning Man illustrate the capability of the custom techniques and present technology.

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