Drones, smartphones used to map El Nino flooding

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Forget about selfies. In California, residents are using smartphones and drones to document the coastline's changing face.

See Full Article

Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern that's bringing California its wettest winter in years - and all in the name of science.

The idea is that crowd-sourced, geotagged images of storm surges and flooded beaches will give scientists a brief window into what the future holds as sea levels rise from global warming, a sort of a crystal ball for climate change.

Images from the latest drones, which can produce high-resolution 3D maps, will be particularly useful and will help scientists determine if predictive models about coastal flooding are accurate, said Matt Merrifield, the organization's chief technology officer.

"We use these projected models and they don't quite look right, but we're lacking any empirical evidence," he said. "This is essentially a way of 'ground truthing' those models."

Experts on climate change agreed that El Nino-fueled storms offer a sneak peak of the future and said the project was a novel way to raise public awareness. Because of its crowd-sourced nature, however, they cautioned the experiment might not yield all the results organizers hoped for, although any additional information is useful.

"It's not the answer, but it's a part of the answer," said Lesley Ewing, senior coastal engineer with the California Coastal Commission. "It's a piece of the puzzle."

In California, nearly a half-million people, US$100 billion in property and critical infrastructure such as schools, power plants and highways will be at risk of inundation during a major storm if sea level rises another 1.4 metres - a figure that could become a reality by 2100, according to a 2009 Pacific Institute study commissioned by three state agencies.

Beaches that Californians take for granted will become much smaller or disappear altogether and El Nino-fueled storms will have a similar effect, if only temporarily, said William Patzert, a climatologist for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"When you get big winter storm surge like they want to document, you tend to lose a lot of beach," he said. "In a way, it's like doing a documentary on the future. It'll show you what your beaches will look like in 100 years."

What the mapping won't be able to predict is exactly which beaches will disappear and which bluffs will crumble - all things that will affect how flooding impacts coastal populations, said Ewing, the California Coastal Commission engineer.

"We're not going to capture that change," she said. "We're going to capture where the water could go to with this current landscape and that's still a very important thing to understand because it gets at those hot spots."

So far, project organizers aren't giving assignments to participants, although they may send out specific requests as the winter unfolds, said Merrifield.

If users wind up mapping real-time flooding events along 10 or 15 per cent of California's 1,351-kilometre-long coastline the project will be a success, he said. A realistic goal is a "curated selection" of 3D maps showing flooding up and down the coast at different dates and times.

The Nature Conservancy has partnered with a San Francisco-area startup called DroneDeploy that will provide a free app to drone owners for consistency. The app will provide automated flight patterns at the touch of a screen while cloud-based technology will make managing so much data feasible, said Ian Smith, a business developer for the company.

Trent Lukaczyk heard about the experiment from a posting in a Facebook group dedicated to drone enthusiasts. For the aerospace engineer, who has already used drones to map coral reefs in American Samoa, the volunteer work was appealing.

"It's a really exciting application. It's not just something to take a selfie with," he said, before heading out to collect images of beach erosion after a storm in Pacifica, California.


Latest Tech & Science News

  • Google Fiber halts expansion plans as chief steps down

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO - Google's parent company is halting operations and laying off staff in a number of cities where it once hoped to bring high-speed internet access by installing new fiber-optic networks. The company also announced that Craig Barratt, a veteran tech executive who led the ambitious - and expensive - Google Fiber program, is stepping down. Source
  • Canadians consuming less TV and radio but more media overall, CRTC says

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Canadians are watching less TV and radio but consuming more media than ever before, new numbers from the CRTC show. According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Canadians are listening to an average of 16.2 hours of radio per week, a number which is down almost two per cent from 2014's level. Source
  • Beer run! Self-driving truck goes 120-plus miles on delivery

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DENVER -- Anheuser-Busch says it has completed the world's first commercial shipment by self-driving truck, sending a beer-filled tractor-trailer on a journey of more than 120 miles through Colorado. The company says it teamed with self-driving truck maker, Otto, and the state of Colorado for the feat. Source
  • Beer run! Self-driving truck goes 200 kilometres on delivery

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DENVER -- Anheuser-Busch says it has completed the world's first commercial shipment by self-driving truck, sending a beer-filled tractor-trailer on a journey of approximately 200 kilometres through Colorado. The company says it teamed with self-driving truck maker, Otto, and the state of Colorado for the feat. Source
  • Breaching humpback whales draw crowds in small N.S. town

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The mayor of a small town in southwestern Nova Scotia caused quite a stir when he posted photos of an unusual sighting off the town’s shore – a nearby group of humpback whales. Since Digby Mayor Ben Cleveland shared the photos on Facebook, crowds have flocked to the area in the hopes of a catching a glimpse of the majestic creatures for themselves. Source
  • Tech Tuesday: 5 things cybersecurity experts would never do

    Tech & Science CTV News
    You already know you shouldn’t share your password with a stranger, but cybersecurity experts say there are other routine tasks you may be carrying out -- including using your debit card online or downloading free apps to your phone – that could seriously jeopardize your online security. Source
  • Researchers link virus to Alaska birds with deformed beaks

    Tech & Science CTV News
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Researchers in California and Alaska are hoping they've found what's causing beaks of some bird species to grow twice as fast as normal. The disease is called avian keratin disorder. Affected birds grow beaks that are freakishly long and that sometimes curve up or down. Source
  • Chinese firm issues webcam recall after massive cyberattack

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- A Chinese electronics maker has issued a recall for millions of products sold in the U.S. following a devastating cyberattack, but is pushing back against criticism that its devices played a role in the massive disruption. Source
  • Chinese firm says it did all it could ahead of cyberattack

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- A Chinese electronics maker that has recalled millions of products sold in the U.S. said Tuesday that it did all it could to prevent a massive cyberattack that briefly blocked access to websites including Twitter and Netflix. Source
  • Plunging solar equipment prices fuel trade complaints

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING - Use of solar power is soaring, but Europe's biggest solar panel manufacturer, SolarWorld, took the surprise step last month of cutting 500 jobs from its workforce of 3,000. The reason? Global sales are on track for a record year but prices are plunging due to a glut of supply. Source