On July 15, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon well was capped. The well wasn’t officially sealed for another two months. Two years later, our work is still relevant.
Two years after the disaster, I thought I’d take some time to look back at a project taken up by Jeffrey Yoo Warren. Warren was an MIT student who started the Grassroots Mapping Initiative. The initiative was a group of citizen mappers documenting the environmental effects of the Gulf Oil Spill through high-resolution aerial photography. Their images provided some of the few high resolution aerial images of the gulf oil spill made available to the public.
I was fortunate enough to work with Jeffrey in the project. For me, the project was about transparency and bringing to light the extent of the environmental impact. Open data is important to me and I’ve worked directly with the US government and the World Bank about this issue. So when Jeffrey was looking for support for the project, I was one of the first to respond.
The project was simple, something that one person could do: Use inexpensive digital cameras and balloons to take aerial photographs of the gulf oil spill.
Since Jeffrey and his team continue their mapping initiatives today, I thought that I’d include a How to Guide that will help you start your own mapping project.
Grassroots Mapping Toolkit
The aerial mapping toolkit, seen above, is a simplified kite and balloon aerial photography system for high-resolution map-making. The tookit consists of:
Flight platforms: Assembling a balloon kit will cost from $100-200, including helium.
- The Public Laboratory Balloon Mapping Kit is assembled from the preferred parts.
- For alternative and low-cost materials, see the Balloon Mapping Materials page.
- Use this chart to calculate the lift you’ll need.
- For kites, see Kite Mapping
Single Line systems: The PET Bottle & Rubber Band Rig wraps around the small and medium sized cameras (up to micro 4/3) for crash protection while firmly mounting it in a position for vertical images.
For heavy cameras, a Trash Can Rig offers more protection.
Multiple Line Systems: these are more complex to build but can provide added stability, especially useful for video. (Several people have created Picavet rigs.)
Cameras: A small camera that supports continuous shooting mode and a large storage card, or an excellent camera phone are the preferred options.
- When mapmaking, efficient image sorting either on your desktop, or using Mapmill is a must.
- Some people also use proprietary software such as Photoshop, Hypr3d, orPhotoSynth. For a freely distributed desktop option, check out the GNU Image Manipulation Program.
Useful guides: Our latest guides can always be found on the Guides page, including:
- The four-page Grassroots Mapping Guide
- The Balloon Mapping Quick Start Guide to filling and flying (pdf) and editable Google Doc
- The Balloon Mapping Check Lists (pdf) and editable Google Doc, which are extremely useful in planning field expeditions, even for experienced fliers.
- We also maintain a guide to FAA regulations page.
Curricula and workshops: Our Curriculum-Guide covers the entire process and some theory behind mapping. It is still in beta.
- Near-infrared imagery for vegetation monitoring and other uses.
- Image analysis – Try some of these techniques for bringing out detail and compositing your images with near-infrared imagery.
- Ground control point targets for correlating on-the-ground measurements directly with photos.
- Balloon telemetry for recording GPS and gyroscopic data.
- Kite Balloons experiments in wind-stabilized balloons
- Hydrogen ballooning – be very careful.
The sky’s the limit, literally, on the application and use cases for grassroots area mapping. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was what got me involved but tomorrow it could be something else. If you are bold enough to start your own mapping initiative, come back and share the photos with us.