Friday, August 10, 2012

VirginiaView Geospatial Education Workshop

During July 2012, VirginiaView (, the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program (, and three partnering Virginia community colleges organized geospatial workshops located at each of these community colleges for precollege teachers and other educators.  These workshops were funded jointly by VirginiaView and the National Science Foundation.  Each workshop introduced participants to the basics of GPS, GIS, and remote sensing.  The workshops included approaches to integrating geospatial technologies in the classroom and were cross-referenced to the applicable Virginia Standards of Learning.

The workshops were conducted by Alison Goforth, a high school science teacher from Montgomery County, Virginia, and Tammy Parece, a Ph.D. student in Virginia Tech’s Geospatial and Environmental Analysis Program.   The workshop’s two-day program was developed by Alison, Tammy, John McGee - Virginia Tech’s Geospatial Extension Specialist, and James Campbell - Professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Geography.   The workshops were hosted and supported by each of the community colleges’ faculty.   

The curriculum was divided into discrete sessions covering different topics, starting the first day with “What is GPS?”  Participants were provided with a history of GPS, instruction on the use of one particular type of GPS receiver, did an outside activity with the receiver, and then downloaded and used the gathered data in Google Earth®.  On the afternoon of the first day, they were introduced to Geocaching, using trackable VirginiaView geocoins and associated learning lessons. 

The morning of the second day was an introduction to GIS.  Participants were directed to an online GIS program and provide guidance on using the program; including adding the data acquired with the GPS receivers the previous day.  In addition, participants were guided through online searches for downloadable and free GIS data.  They learned where to find tested lesson plans, and were assisted while they actually worked through some of these lesson plans.  

The afternoon of the second day was reserved for remote sensing.   Many participants were familiar with GPS and GIS, but remote sensing was entirely new.   First, they received a brief history of remote sensing.  The initial activity introduced them to the application of stereoscopes and aerial photos.  They then progressed to an activity using on-the-ground photos as a tool to locate and identify a specific area in Google Earth®.  After remote sensing using aerial photography, satellite imagery was studied along with applications of satellite imagery in different analyses.  They explored an online Landsat Imagery viewer.   Dr. Campbell also provided preprocessed Landsat images with different band combinations, and an additional activity was conducted around these images.

By the afternoon of the second day, participants realized that they weren’t being introduced to three completely independent technologies.  They understood these technologies could be used separately but became more powerful when used jointly.   

Each participant received a binder with all documents used in the two day workshops, a DVD with the presentations - both in document and in presentation form, supplemental documents with URLs of websites accessed, and the images used in all activities.   

Participants included high school teachers representing diverse subjects – e.g. human geography, science, and math.  The workshops also attracted middle school teachers, elementary school teachers, 4-H coordinators, a master naturalist, a Red-Cross volunteer, and a nursing instructor.  One 4-H coordinator advised that she signed up for the workshops questioning how these would benefit her in her main focus area – honeybees and beekeeping.  But by the first break, her thought process was changing, and by the end of the second day, she had made detailed notes throughout both workshop days on how she was going to implement each technology and was sure that they were going to jointly change and enhance her work.   Likewise, the nursing instructor advised that she had the same concerns but as presentations of different topics and lessons occurred, and discussions on the applicability to different subjects proceeded (especially uses in medical geography), she felt that she was on the forefront of technology that was going to revolutionize her profession.    Many participants asked if additional workshops would occur next summer, continuing beyond the basics that were taught this summer.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cladophora Mapping

Cladophora is a filamentous, green algae that grows in all five Laurentian Great Lakes.  Although native, clear water created by zebra mussels and high levels of phosphorous have allowed it to become overgrown and cause local environmental problems.  As the algae sloughs off and is carried to shore, there have been outbreaks of avian botulism as well as reports of beach fouling.  Because of it's harmful effects, determining the extent of Cladophora is useful for water quality managers as well as utility operators and recreational beach-goers.

In 2011, Michigan Tech Research Institute developed a technique to use satellite imagery to track the extent of Cladophora.  Using an algorithm based on the the work of Lyzenga (Lyzenga 1978, 1981, Lyzenga et al. 2006), they depth-corrected Landsat data to map Cladophora at a test site - Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore - and achieved 85% accuracy (see right).  You can view a *.pdf of the test site results or read more about the process they used here.

The algorithm was subsequently applied to the coast of Lake Michigan and charted the location of Cladophora to a depth of ~20 meters.  An interactive map of the result can be seen here.