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.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Expert says major volcano eruption in Papua New Guinea could be soon

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CANBERRA, Australia -- Seismic activity beneath a Papua New Guinea volcano could mean that a major eruption was imminent, a volcanologist said on Thursday. Thousands of people have been evacuated from islands surrounding Kadovar Island off the South Pacific nation's north coast since a volcano there began erupting on Jan. Source
  • Hidden black hole caught flinging star back and forth in distant cluster

    Tech & Science CBC News
    It was a mystery. A star in a massive cluster at the outer edge of our galaxy was moving erratically. Every 167 days, the star would be flung outwards — and then inwards again — at speeds of up to several hundred thousand kilometres per hour. Source
  • Montreal to chop 4,000 ash trees on Mount Royal sickened by beetles

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MONTREAL -- The City of Montreal will chop down 4,000 ash trees on picturesque Mount Royal because they have been attacked by an invasive strain of beetle from Asia. "This isn't a decision we're making lightly, cutting trees on Mount Royal, 4,000 is a lot," Coun. Source
  • World's biggest underwater cave found in Mexico

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A group of divers has found a connection between two underwater caverns in eastern Mexico to reveal what is believed to be the biggest flooded cave on the planet, a discovery that could help shed new light on the ancient Maya civilization. Source
  • Meteor credited for bright light, noise rattling Michigan

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DETROIT -- Experts say a bright light and what sounded like thunder in the sky above Michigan was a meteor. The American Meteor Society says it received hundreds of reports of a fireball Tuesday night over the state, including many in the Detroit area. Source
  • Meteor lights up sky over Windsor-Essex, triggers minor 'earthquake' in Michigan

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The United States Geological Survey has confirmed that a bright flash of light followed by a booming sound spotted in Windsor-Essex was a meteor that broke up over the Detroit area. Meteor showers, big rockets and asteroid encounters: What to expect in space in 2018 Social media across the region lit up with videos of the burning space matter Tuesday night around 8:10 p.m. Source
  • Genetic pot-pourri: Why cannabis strains don't all live up to their billing

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Red Diesel, Moby Dick, Lemon Burst, or how about Girl Scout Cookies? All names for "bud," the cannabis flower, and when the black market product goes legal in Canada this summer expect some heavy marketing of fancy names and their tantalizing effects. Source
  • Wildlife rescuers say Ontario ministry is bullying them, not helping

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Some wildlife rescuers in Ontario say they're being bullied and harassed by Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry enforcement officers who know little about wildlife and are too heavy-handed with the rules. The operators of rescue centres say they are speaking out to shine a light on what they describe as poor treatment by conservation officers. Source
  • What's in your weed: Why cannabis strains don't all live up to their billing

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Red Diesel, Moby Dick, Lemon Burst, or how about Girl Scout Cookies? All names for "bud," the cannabis flower, and when the black market product goes legal in Canada this summer expect some heavy marketing of fancy names and their tantalizing effects. Source
  • If you fish for these invasive crabs, you can't sell them - you need to give them away free

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A Newfoundland fisherman says there's money to be made from green crab, an invasive species that's destroying the ocean habitat at the edge of Fortune Bay. But the department that's in control of commercial licences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is taking a cautious approach. Source