Tag Archives: Geographic

Video: Minority Report Meets Crisis Mapping

This short video was inspired by the pioneering work of the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF). A global network of 1,000+ digital humanitarians in 80+ countries, the SBTF is responsible for some of the most important live crisis mapping operations that have supported both humanitarian and human rights organizations over the past 2+ years. Today, the SBTF is a founding and active member of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) and remains committed to rapid learning and innovation thanks to an outstanding team of volunteers (“Mapsters”) and their novel use of next-generation humanitarian technologies.

The video first aired on the National Geographic Television Channel in February 2013. A big thanks to the awesome folks from National Geographic and the outstanding Evolve Digital Cinema Team for visioning the future of digital humanitarian technologies—a future that my Crisis Computing Team and I at QCRI are working to create.

An aside: I tried on several occasions to hack the script and say “We” rather than “I” since crisis mapping is very rarely a solo effort but the main sponsor insisted that the focus be on one individual. On the upside, one of the scenes in the commercial is of a Situation Room full of Mapsters coupled with the narration: “Our team can map the pulse of the planet, from anywhere, getting aid to the right places.” Our team = SBTF! Which is why the $$ received for being in this commercial will go towards supporting Mapsters.

bio

Back to the Future: On National Geographic and Crisis Mapping

[Cross-posted from National Geographic Newswatch]

Published in October 1888, the first issue of National Geographic “was a modest looking scientific brochure with an austere terra-cotta cover” (NG 2003). The inaugural publication comprised a dense academic treatise on the classification of geographic forms by genesis. But that wasn’t all. The first issue also included a riveting account of “The Great White Hurricane” of March 1888, which still ranks as one of the worst winter storms ever in US history.

Wreck at Coleman’s Station, New York & Harlem R. R., March 13, 1888. Photo courtesy NOAA Photo Library.

I’ve just spent a riveting week myself at the 2012 National Geographic Explorers Symposium in Washington DC, the birthplace of the National Geographic Society. I was truly honored to be recognized as a 2012 Emerging Explorer along with such an amazing and accomplished cadre of explorers. So it was with excitement that I began reading up on the history of this unique institution whilst on my flight to Doha following the Symposium.

I’ve been tagged as the “Crisis Mapper” of the Emerging Explorers Class of 2012. So imagine my astonishment when I  began discovering that National Geographic had a long history of covering and mapping natural disasters, humanitarian crises and wars starting from the very first issue of the magazine in 1888. And when World War I broke out:

“Readers opened their August 1914 edition of the magazine to find an up-to-date map of ‘The New Balkan States and Central Europe’ that allowed them to follow the developments of the war. Large maps of the fighting fronts continued to be published throughout the conflict […]” (NG 2003).

Map of ‘The New Balkan States and Central Europe’ from the August 1914 “National Geographic Magazine.” Image courtesy NGS.

National Geographic even established a News Service Bureau to provide bulletins on the geographic aspects of the war for the nation’s newspapers. As the respected war strategist Carl von Clausewitz noted half-a-century before the launch of Geographic, “geography and the character of the ground bear a close and ever present relation to warfare, . . . both as to its course and to its planning and exploitation.”

“When World War II came, the Geographic opened its vast files of photographs, more than 300,000 at that time, to the armed forces. By matching prewar aerial photographs against wartime ones, analysts detected camouflage and gathered intelligence” (NG 2003).

During the 1960s, National Geographic “did not shrink from covering the war in Vietnam.” Staff writers and photographers captured all aspects of the war from “Saigon to the Mekong Delta to villages and rice fields.” In the years and decades that followed, Geographic continued to capture unfolding crises, from occupied Palestine and Apartheid South Africa to war-torn Afghanistan and the drought-striven Sahel of Africa.

Geographic also covered the tragedy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the dramatic eruption of Mount Saint Helens. The gripping account of the latter would in fact become the most popular article in all of National Geographic history. Today,

“New technologies–remote sensing, lasers, computer graphics, x-rays and CT scans–allow National Geographic to picture the world in new ways.” This is equally true of maps. “Since the first map was published in the magazine in 1888, maps  have been an integral component of many magazine articles, books and television programs […]. Originally drafted by hand on large projections, today’s maps are created by state-of-the art computers to map everything from the Grand Canyon to the outer reaches of the universe” (NG 2003). And crises.

“Pick up a newspaper and every single day you’ll see how geography plays a dominant role in giving a third dimension to life,” wrote Gil Grosvenor, the former Editor in Chief of National Geographic (NG 2003). And as we know only too well, many of the headlines in today’s newspapers relay stories of crises the world over. National Geographic has a tremendous opportunity to shed a third dimension on emerging crises around the globe using new live mapping technologies. Indeed, to map the world is to know it, and to map the world live is to change it live before it’s too late. The next post in this series will illustrate why with an example from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.

Patrick Meier is a 2012 National Geographic Emerging ExplorerHe is an internationally recognized thought leader on the application of new technologies for positive social change. He currently serves as Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute (QCRI). Patrick also authors the respected iRevolution blog & tweets at @patrickmeier. This piece was originally published here on National Geographic.

On Genghis Khan, Borneo and Galaxies: Using Crowdsourcing to Analyze Satellite Imagery

My colleague Robert Soden was absolutely right: Tomnod is definitely iRevolution material. This is why I reached out to the group a few days ago to explore the possibility of using their technology to crowdsource the analysis of satellite imagery for Somalia. You can read more about that project here. In this blog post, however, is to highlight the amazing work they’ve been doing with National Geographic in search of Genghis Khan’s tomb.

This “Valley of the Khans Project” represents a new approach to archeology. Together with National Geographic, Tomnod has collected thousands of GeoEye satellite images of the valley and designed a  simple user interface to crowdsource the tagging of roads, rivers and modern or ancient structures they. I signed up to give it a whirl and it was a lot of fun. A short video gives a quick guide on how to recognize different structures and then off you go!

You are assigned the rank “In Training” when you first begin. Once you’ve tagged your first 10 images, you progress to the next rank, which is “Novice 1″. The squares at the bottom left represent the number of individual satellite images you’ve tagged and how many are left. This is a neat game-like console and I wonder if there’s a scoreboard with names, listed ranks and images tagged.

In any case, a National Geographic team in Mongolia use the results to identify the most promising archeological sites. The field team also used Unmanned Areal Vehicles (UAVs) to supplement the satellite imagery analysis. You can learn more about the “Valley of the Khans Project” from this TEDx talk by Tomnod’s Albert Lin. Incidentally, Tomnod also offered their technology to map the damage from the devastating earthquake in New Zealand, earlier this year. But the next project I want to highlight focuses on the forests of Borneo.

I literally just found out about the “EarthWatchers: Planet Patrol” project thanks to Edwin Wisse’s comment on my previous blog post. As Edwin noted, EarthWatchers is indeed very similar to the Somalia initiative I blogged about. The project is “developing the (web)tools for students all over the world to monitor rainforests using updated satellite imagery to provide real time intelligence required to halt illegal deforestation.”

This is a really neat project and I’ve just signed up to participate. EarthWatchers has designed a free and open source platform to make it easy for students to volunteer. When you log into the platform, EarthWatchers gives you a hexagon-shaped area of the Borneo rainforest to monitor and protect using the satellite imagery displayed on the interface.

The platform also provides students with a number of contextual layers, such as road and river networks, to add context to the satellite imagery and create heat-maps of the most vulnerable areas. Forests near roads are more threatened since the logs are easier to transport, for example. In addition, volunteers can compare before-and-after images of their hexagon to better identify any changes. If you detect any worrying changes in your hexagon, you can create an alert that notifies all your friends and neighbors.

An especially neat feature about the interface is that it allows students to network online. For example, you can see who your neighbors in nearby hexagons are and even chat with them thanks to a native chat feature. This is neat because it facilitates collaboration mapping in real time and means you don’t feel alone or isolated as a volunteer. The chat feature helps to builds community.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, I recommend the presentation below by Eduardo Dias.

The third and final project I want to highlight is called Galaxy Zoo. I first came across this awesome example of citizen science in MacroWikinomics—an excellent book written by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. The purpose of Galaxy Zoo is to crowdsource the tagging and thus classification of galaxies as either spiral or elliptical. In order to participate, users to take a short tutorial on the basics of galaxy morphology.

While this project began as an experiment of sorts, the initiative is thriving with more than 275,000 users participating and 75 million classifications made. In addition, the data generated has resulted in several peer reviewed publica-tions real scientific discoveries. While the project uses imagery of the stars rather than earth, it really qualifies as a major success story in crowdsourcing the analysis of imagery.

Know of other intriguing applications of crowdsourcing for imagery analysis? If so, please do share in the comments section below.