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July 8th, 2010
Community Remote Sensing Emerges

Kite aerial photography is one example of this growing trend. Kites and balloons have been used for aerial photography for as long as photography has existed, and now they’re offering a platform for hobbyists to map and measure the world. The most compelling examples are taking place now to map the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at the encouragement of Grassroots Mapping. This organization has harnessed community participation for the Gulf Oil Spill Mapping project to document the extent and impact of oil on the shoreline.

Another example of this growing trend is the work being done by Fijian and Cook Islanders to map and monitor the health of their coral reefs. The project enables locals to collect and record satellite information to form a baseline for the assessment of the reefs, and helps them collect and record relevant information.

The volunteer GIS group, GISCorps has also been active in this regard, using the Internet and wikis to conduct remote projects for analysis, education and disaster response. The group deployed their resources a few days after Cyclone Nargis hit areas o Myanmar (Burma) on May 2, 2008, and assisted the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to perform change detection and the analysis of various features from a Google Earth environment. The volunteers contributed more than 900 hours all told, and collected more than 54,000 features from the imagery, assisting the UN in important humanitarian work from afar, each using their own computers from their homes or offices.

These and more examples of community remote sensing will be highlighted at the IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium IGARSS that will take place in Honolulu, Hawaii from July 25 through 28. The event encourages this new means to capture information about the environment (both natural and human-built), for this information is central to our progress. The enormity of the required undertaking – observing and understanding our world at all space and time scales – takes your breath away.