Grass Roots Mapping
I can't say enough about Grassroots Mapping!
Beginning in 2010, Grassroots Mapping organizers have been working with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to assist Gulf Coast residents in producing high-resolution aerial imagery of the BP spill’s effects on Louisiana’s wetlands. The whole concept and appeal of the effort lies in its simplicity; allowing locals, without any prior experience, to actively monitor changes in their surrounding environment. Their efforts are also a perfect way to capture student’s imaginations and get them interested in something educational, science related, and fun. As a bonus, all the imagery from this project is being released into the public domain.
After photographing an area with a low cost digital camera slung from a kite or balloon from an altitude between 100 and 300 feet, the resulting images are “stitched” together, and georectified, or made spatially accurate to a standard map grid. Georectification, typically not the easiest task, is required, in order to quantitatively measure changes between different sets of photographs potentially taken months or years apart.
This cost effective method has the potential for citizen scientists to monitor changes in local wetlands a real prospect and compare it to historical data, available from the US Geological Survey. The benefits of this low cost approach, is the mappers do not have to wait years for either the government to update its maps, conceivably the over flights can be done annually, to monitor incremental changes. While aerial monitoring may not be best for tracking subtle changes in vegetation growth or changes, it remains unsurpassed for monitoring the demarcation of water and land, and changes in landform sizes and shapes.
Expanding this initiative, last week it was announced that the open source maps created by the balloon and kite over flights will be added into Google Earth. 45 of these maps, including some that were created in 2011 of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York have also been added.
While hiking, I stumbled upon an isolated wetland, with a large population of Skunk Cabbage,(Symplocarpus Foetidus) a harbinger of spring in Connecticut and the Northeastern US. It's complexity and unique characteristics are frequently overlooked due to its early bloom and homely appearance. Skunk Cabbage is often the first plant to push its way through the crust of snow in late February or March, but this year the surrounding trees and shrubs leafed out earlier along with the skunk cabbage, not surprisingly due to the warmer weather this Spring.
Almost everything about Skunk Cabbage is unusual except its appearance. It's otherworldly mottled maroon and green flower, or spathe, forces its way through the snow by increasing its temperature up to 15 degrees Celsius or 59 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to melt any snow around the flower. After the flowers protrusion, it begins to grow leaves in a corkscrew pattern, reaching its full height and diameter, between 1 and 3 feet, in June before dropping seeds and dying back in early Fall.
For a wetland plant that must constantly deal with fluctuating soil and water conditions, the plant is extraordinarily long lived; specimens are believed to have lived hundreds of years. The root system, sternly anchoring the entire plant in soggy wetland soils, is similarly impressive, it’s both deep and broad, and resembles a ragged mop. Contractile roots pull the plant further into the soil depending on the water and soil levels found in the wetland. The vast root system also serves as a food reservoir, the starch stored in the roots fuel the heat process in early Spring, and have been known to be eaten by American Indians after being boiled. No word on how it tastes.
Besides these botanical facts, the reason Skunk Cabbage retains its name is it noisome odor when its leaves and stems are bruised. The odor, noticeable but not horrible, is enough to please any child who know its secret.
More information about this complex plant here:
Schistosomiasis and Wetlands
Schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, is tropical disease caused by parasitic worms in a highly evolved cycle that progresses through multiple hosts during its lifecycle. Starting as a larvae in in shallow freshwater or wetlands, it then infects a snail as an intermediary host, and then matures into a fluke or worm in humans. Next to malaria, it is one of the most devastating tropical illnesses, affecting more than 207 million people, and killing 200,000 annually. Schistosomiasis is second only to malaria in its socioeconomic devastation.
Part of the fight against Schistosomiasis is identifying drug compounds that have the capability of disabling proteins essential for the parasite's survival. A program called VINA from The Scripps Research Institute in California, will be used to perform the virtual chemistry experiments, using donated distributed computer time (Similar to SETI online). With enough donated computing time, this task can be completed in approximately 1 year, and will be published in the public domain.
If you are interested in running this program in the background on your computer, visit this webpage for more information:
Screening for the best potential drug compounds is an early step in the process of developing more effective treatments for the disease. With enough computing power, this screening can be done much more quickly than using conventional laboratory experiments.
More information is available here:
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Wetlands in the News
- The Nature Conservancy Protects 600 Acres of Forested Wetlands along the ... - The Nature...
- Wetlands Edge Environmental Center - The Decatur Daily
- EPA funding to protect wetlands, collect environmental data in NY state - Water World
- Ala. developer to plead guilty in wetlands case - Knoe.com
- Farm bill would preserve Fla. wetlands: My Word - Orlando Sentinel