Agricultral Land Use Changes, 2001-2012, Southeastern Iowa, Using Landsat 4 & 5 Tm Imagery

Authors: Jie Ren, James B. Campbell, and Yang Shao 

In central regions of the U. S. Corn Belt, agricultural production since 2001 has changed in response to federal policies implemented to encourage production of biofuels. As a result, increasing demand for sustainable bioenergy resources has accelerated biofuel production, and led to changes in agricultural land use. This study examines: (1) increases and decreases in cultivated area, and (2) pixel-by-pixel crop rotation sequences within a region of southeastern Iowa. The practice of agriculture brings lands in and out of production in response to variations in local landscapes, markets, and technologies. Further, crops are rotated in response to environmental and market concerns. Knowledge of how such lands are used, and of their topographic and pedological properties, forms a prerequisite for understanding the context for developing sustainable management practices and policies. This study examines temporal and spatial patterns of agricultural land use from 2001 to 2012 in a region of southeastern Iowa within a single Landsat scene (Path 25/Row 31). After 2007, intensity of cultivated land use increased and crop rotation changed from standard corn-soybean or soybean-corn cycle to more intensive rotations. These changes may be correlated with market forces. Intensity of cultivated land use depended on topographic and pedological properties, although motivations and constraints perceived by farmers and managers as they plan their use of landscapes are important.

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Making Better Digital Maps in an Era of Standardization  LAURA BLISS  Aug 20, 2014

What’s in a map? Or better yet, what should be? The question of how to best visualize information about a place has always been the heartbeat of cartography. Today, with what many call the “democratization” of the field, it’s pulsing faster than ever.

For while the open door of online mapmaking has produced a lot of maps, it’s also brought about a standardization of aesthetics. “To make it easy for people to make a map,” says Daniel Huffman, a cartographer at the University of Wisconsin, “you need to simplify the process down and make things very uniform.” Riffs on Google Maps look for the most part like Google Maps, with its top-down view, muted color scheme, choice of line weights, and approach to terrain.

Even original maps created using Mapbox or other, more powerful geographic information system-based software have the potential to lead to a homogenous look. As previous research in map design by cartographer Kenneth Field has shown, many new map-makers create sterile-looking maps that have ubiquity in style. However, Field notes, in recent years there have been many who are stretching the capabilities of these technologies and creating inspiring and innovative work—which, he suggests, are also leading to improved support for better map design.*
A Mapbox map that locates Pinterest posts. (Flickr/Mapbox)

Still, such standardized design often fails to effectively tell what’s important about a place. “If you look at a map of Amsterdam on Google, it looks like a freeway around some canals,” designer Eric Rodenbeck* told GigaOm. “My experience with Amsterdam has more to do with canals than freeways.”

(Google Maps)

Are we at a stand-still in map design? Not at all. Many cartographers are developing digital, open-source tools that look back to a pre-digital era to make maps that are uniquely designed to a particular purpose. Here are three who are leading in the charge against cartographic standardization and toward beautiful, functional maps.

Daniel Huffman

Huffman is a freelance map-maker, “cartographic philosopher,” and instructor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Above all, his work seeks to restore a human touch to mapmaking. Among many of his undertakings, Project Linework may be the most innovative. It’s a “library of free, public-domain sets of vector lifework”—lines that indicate borders, roads, or simple data points—that are all distinct.

“Some of them have a non-digital aesthetic, certainly,” Huffman says. “But it’s not intrinsically about looking handmade. It’s about looking to express yourself. And it’s all about expression. Cartographers are artists. We are story tellers here to tell you about a place. It can be very fact-driven, but it’s akin to journalism—there’s information and facts, but then it’s up to the journalist to use judgment and creativity to figure how to best express that.”

Two examples of lineworks. (Daniel Huffman/Project Linework)

“I can download a boring linework style,” he says. “But it’s nice to have a set of other ones available, to offer something that people can just pull off and use to fit the kind of aesthetic they’re going for. It’s easier and cheaper for all maps to look the same. I wanted to make it cheap and easy for maps to not look the same.”

Although Huffman’s “The Ways of the Framers” (below) isn’t part of Project Linework, the street map of Madison answers the question of stylized vectors in a striking way: with signatures.

Daniel Huffman/Cargo Collective

“I live on Jenifer Street, and I was wondering why it’s spelled with one ‘n.’ I found out. And then I started to dig in around the history of my city’s streets and got wrapped up in the stories of the Founding Fathers. I wanted to evoke these people again. We very easily forget who we name things for and why. So I stole the signatures off the Constitution and it worked out.”  Click to continue reading.

Wendy’s uses mapping software from Calif. firm Esri to pick new locations   August 17

At the Wendy’s corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, real estate director John Crouse is swimming in data about the company’s almost 6,000 fast-food restaurants nationwide.

Crouse and one other colleague are responsible for building and analyzing maps of Wendy’s locations and the surrounding areas. They rely on a geography-based data program to quickly comb through large volumes of information — decades of sales records, demographic descriptions of nearby residents, and other data points — to predict how much a restaurant might take in annually at sites in the United States.

Once Crouse researches a potential site, he submits it to an internal committee; if the location is approved, engineering and construction can proceed.

Wendy’s is one of the latest companies to make use of software from a Redlands, Calif., company called Esri. Esri specializes in mapping various kinds of data — much of it culled from publicly available data sets — to help people visualize relationships, patterns and trends.

Especially since the economic downturn in 2008, many large corporations have been looking to such software — known as “geographic information systems” — to better direct their limited real estate budgets, according to Wayne Gearey, senior vice president for location intelligence at commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

 “It’s just starting to become industry standard for [corporate] real estate decisions,” said Gearey, who uses Esri and other mapping services, such as MapInfo’s and Google’s, for his client

The Public Will Soon Be Able to Buy Military-Grade Satellite Images  Patrick Tucker  13 Aug 2014

On Wednesday, the world’s premier marketer of high-resolution satellite imagery, DigitalGlobe, successfully launched their new WorldView 3 (WV3) satellite. As Defense Onereported in April, the WorldView 3 will operate 380 miles above the Earth’s surface and will go from pole to pole in 98 minutes, moving at 7 miles per second.

 Who will buy the imagery?

 DigitalGlobe’s number one clientremains the government, and the largest government client is the National GeoIntelligence Agency, NGA, which gave the company $32.3 million in the second quarter of this year. But DigitalGlobe sells their services to other bodies like NATO to help track Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian Border, and to Google for use with Google Maps. DigitalGlobe’s image archive is the best on the planet with enough pictures to show every corner of the Earth 30 times over.

 The satellite uses a shortwave infrared sensor to see through haze, dust and smoke to tell you things like how moist the soil is that you’re looking at. The WV3 can identify minerals, differentiate between tree species—even help determine the health of trees. The images themselves are also pin-point accurate on a map, with each pixel assigned its own latitude and longitude number.

 The new satellite’s most important feature is its 30-centimeter resolution, which would “allow you to see not only a car, but the windshield and the direction the car is going. Something as small as home plate,” according to the company.

While that 30-centimeter resolution isn’t sufficient to do computerized facial recognition from space—depending on the light, the angle and the analyst, pictures at that scale could help positively identify Russian military commanders operating in Ukraine. Or it could help illumine ISIL leaders like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The U.S. military has a big interest in what’s called “non-permissive data collection,” which really means the collection of data about a subject without the subject’s knowledge

 Prior to this year, the government didn’t want the public to have access to pictures from space at that level of detail, forcing DigitalGlobe to degrade the images that they were selling to a resolution of half a meter. In May of last year, Digital Globe petitioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to free them up to sell imagery as at a higher resolution at open markets.

 With little notice or fanfare, they won. On June 11th, the company issued a release stating that the government would allow them to sell images at a resolution as detailed 25 centimeters starting six months from Wednesday’s launch.

 It’s not—on the one hand—bad news for the U.S. that non-permissive data collection from space is now much more open to the public. As Joseph Marks reports in a piece for Defense One sister site NextGov, by opening up the images for public purchase, the price drops and that means that the government will be able to buy a lot more imagery at lower cost. (As previously reported, the company charges a minimum order of 100 square kilometers at $4000.) But on the other hand, it also means that the ability to see a baseball plate, license plate, or possibly a face from 380 miles above the Earth’s surface has suddenly become much less of an exclusive, elite capability.

 DigitalGlobe is prohibited from selling high-resolution satellite images if the sale presents a national security threat or foreign policy concern. When a potential client makes contact, the company has to vet the person against a list of known terrorists. The U.S. government retains the right to impose “shutter control” at any time. But they’ve never had to according to DigitalGlobeCTO Walter Scott. The company self-monitors what pictures they sell and to whom. For instance, they sold no images of sensitive areas in Iraq during operation Iraqi Freedom.

 It’s an amazing new tool but that doesn’t mean the public will use it. Upstart companies selling microsatellites at much lower cost are giving DigitalGlobe some very serious competition. A company out of California called Planet Labs currently operates the largest constellation of earth-imaging satellites, 28 so-called Dove microsatellites, which the company put into orbit near the start of the year. Others, like SkyBox, KickStat and SkyCube, etc. are all finding strange niches and funding in a rapidly growing marketplace. None of these satellites can offer the sort of images that the WV3 can (many don’t take pictures at all), but they do serve as an indication of how quickly the cost of space access is dropping.

A former intelligence analyst speaking toDefense One questioned whether or not the cost of a satellite like WV justified the value that customers would get it out it, given the rising competition. “I really think the issue is the very complex, extremely expensive, big satellites going up against the Skyboxes of the world,” he said. “The upside will be if the military is heavily tasking US assets on a specific part of the world, another capable satellite could provide coverage of other areas.”

There’s a fundamental shift occurring in the satellite imagery market and that could put more pressure on DigitalGlobe, the analyst said. “The only way [DigitalGlobe] can make money is from the analytical side. Imagery has become a commodity.”

Analytics, as a product, is also growing faster in supply than in demand. Spatial analysis firms like ESRI, based in Redlands, Calif., connect mapmakers around the world through the company’s platform, enabling governments, companies, researchers and activists to share lots of geo-specific information and satellite data in realtime. That includes everything from water table maps, to geo-specific histories, to legal boundaries. Skybox, too, is marketing its own satellite analytics service, while academic groups like Harvard’s Satellite Sentinel Project use open-source sat information to predict geopolitical events with a speed and an accuracy that used to be the sole province of governments.

 For consumers in the Defense Department and beyond, the competition is a good thing. The government will need to relymuch more on the private sector to get its satellites into space, provide communications to drones and, of course, to send pictures down to Earth. And so will the rest of us. The view from 380 miles up just got a lot clearer.

Geography teachers on Twitter: who should I follow? Email  Guardian Professional, Monday 18 August 2014 06.38 EDT

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best geography-teaching tweeters out there, covering everything from outdoor art to island escapes

  • Can you recommend someone who isn’t on the list? Share your suggestions with us in the comments thread or @GuardianTeach
World map
Here are some of the top people to follow on Twitter for teaching geography. Photograph: Alamy.

From drought and flooding to deserts and the Arctic, geography teachers are always on the lookout for new teaching ideas, tips, professional development and – most of all – solidarity.

More and more educationalists are finding all these things on Twitter so we’ve put together this list of top tweeters in the geography teaching sphere. This just a selection of the many people out there – please do add your further suggestions in the comments thread or send us a tweet at @GuardianTeach. And don’t forget to follow the#geographyteachers hashtag for more tips and ideas.

Jo Debens, @GeoDebs

As with many geographers, Jo Debens is also a fitness fanatic. She regularly runs and loves to travel, describing herself as a “family girl, geographer, teacher, learner, dog lover”. Debens is curriculum leader for geography at Priory School.

You can find her blogging here. Her post about travelling to the Portuguese island of Faial caught our eye. She says that she’d recommend visiting the island for two or more days either for academic or exploratory purposes. “Children would get a good ‘wow factor’,” she says, adding that the landscape is very dramatic. She also has someuseful GCSE revision tools for your year 11s here.

Picture for Jo Debens blog on her trip to the Portuguese island of Faial. Photograph: /The Guardian

Mark Howell, @mark_howell101

Mark Howell was teaching in the UK, but has now moved to Vijay International School on Praslin island in the Seychelles. He’s a prolific tweeter with updates including information about what he’s having for breakfast (most recently it was the egg of the Sooty Turn bird). A true geographer, he blogs here.

A particular favourite of ours is Howell’s post on land art. He wrote about his creative approach to fieldwork, and a lesson he ran where students were showed the work of artists and asked them to create their own piece. The work could not be permanent, and had to be made in the sand using scavenged materials. Howells took pictures of the works and said the best three would go on the class wall.

One of the artworks made by Howell’s students. Photograph: /Mark Howell

Teachit Geography, @TeachitGeog

This account is associated with Teach It Geography, a website offering secondary geography teaching resources (some of which are free, some which are not). It has hundreds of teaching materials created by teachers and the main tweeter of the site is the editor Chris Smart.

A resource that stood out was a starter activity challenging students to write a 140 word tweet describing images of solar panels, wind turbines and a bird being washed after being polluted by oil. It’s well worth keeping your eyes peeled for other tips too.

Anthony Bennett, @InternetGeog

Anthony Bennett runs a website which provides useful resources to geographers. It has information for teachers working with children of all ages. It also has a galleries of gorgeous pictures you can use to teach everything from coasts to glaciers. He’s a good person to follow on Twitter because he links to useful resources, and does a lot of well selected re-tweeting. He also comments on current affairs and geography in the news.

Andy Knill, @aknill

He writes regularly on his blog here, covering everything from the pressures of teaching to where best to take children on a day trip. Knill has also developed a strong following on Twitter.

He updates his blog regularly and one of his fairly recent posts was an interesting reflection on the occasions when he’s asked students for feedback. Knill said others have described him as “brave” for doing this. But he asked, “ If I can not allow my pupils to give honest feedback and suggestions for the future about my teaching should I be teaching young people?”

MarieAST, @montserrat2901

This geography teacher is great to follow on Twitter with her regular tweets on colourful displays and teaching techniques. Check out the challenge cards she gives to her students below. One includes this task: “Create a playlist of 10 tracks which link to what you have learnt today. Explain your choice.” If you keep them generic, you can save time on planning by using them for multiple leassons. What do you think?

And some more …

A few others you told us about include an assistant headteacher in Brighton, David Rogers (@davidErogers), who writes here. He recently blogged on the latest teacher meet ups in Brighton and Portsmouth. (@tiddtalkwas another name cropping up – he’s a ukulele playing head of Geography in Dorset.

In terms of organisations, The Geographical Association (@The_GA) is a thorough and trusted account to follow and the Royal Geographical Society (@RGS_IBG) offer tips for geographers. Last, but by no means least, check out @GeoBlogs, and the very nifty world atlas shower curtain below.

Want to See How Fast Coastal Wetlands and Forests Are Vanishing?

New federal data reveals the regional decline in coastal ecosystems.

August 19, 2014 Buildings, pavement, golf courses, and other development are taking big bites out of America’s coastal wetlands and forests, and now new federal data is charting just how much is being lost.

Between 1996 and 2011, total coastal forest cover dropped by more than 16,000 square miles—an area roughly the size of Delaware, Maryland, and Rhode Island combined. Some 1,536 miles of wetlands were lost over that period as well, according to the data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Here’s what that looks like in the Southeast, where 510 square miles of wetlands—a swath more than 7 times the size of the District of Columbia—vanished between 1996 and 2011.


Development gobbled up more than half of that area.

And development is a key driver of coastal wetlands lo

Researchers decry limits on drones

Say FAA’s rules inhibit instruction, gathering of data

UMass Amherst’s Eric Poehler plans to downsize an archeological project in Pompeii.


UMass Amherst’s Eric Poehler plans to downsize an archeological project in Pompeii.

WASHINGTON — A regulatory battle in Washington has compelled professors to ground their research drones, the tiny aircraft academics consider vital for archaeological surveys, river mapping, and countless other discoveries.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently clarified that only hobbyists can fly unmanned aircraft without a special permit. The restrictions aim to improve safety and curb the myriad schemes entrepreneurs have envisioned, from Amazon package drops to pizza deliveries.

But now scholars warn the FAA’s action jeopardizes their work and undermines basic education. The issue lands them in the center of a fight over government’s role in airspace and the appropriate use of drones.

“Aircraft are being defined so broadly that it leaves no space for innovation,” said Paul Voss, an associate professor of engineering at Smith College in Northampton and coordinator of a protest letter signed by nearly 30 researchers, including professors from Boston University and Harvard.

“If you go to Walmart and buy a 15-inch remote-controlled helicopter and use it for fun, it’s a toy,” Voss said. “If you use it for education or research from 4 feet off the grass, it’s an unmanned aircraft system.”

Voss expects to cancel an aerial-vehicle design course this year because students won’t be able to fly prototypes.

Eric Poehler, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, plans to downsize his archeological project in Pompeii because he can’t teach his students how to use new equipment or test it himself. And Scott Drzyzga, who teaches geography at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, won’t get the bird’s-eye view so crucial to his research on the removal of dams from rivers.

The use of commercial drones in US airspace has long bedeviled aviation regulators, who must navigate the intersection of technological innovation, business interests, and public safety.

Recent court rulings have sparked questions about the agency’s ability to enforce bans on these devices. The FAA sought to end some of the confusion in June, when it issued an “interpretation’’ that defined which drones qualify as recreational toys.

Hobbyists, the agency said, can freely fly their remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters as long as the aircraft stay away from airports, keep below 400 feet, and remain within the controller’s sight.

Operators need specific approval for all other purposes, from taking pictures of someone’s property to determining whether a commercial farmer should water his crops.

Researchers contend this unfairly applies to them. They insist, in their letter, that the FAA has expanded its jurisdiction over airspace too far, “including our campuses, private backyards and possibly even inside buildings.”

Public universities, unlike most private colleges, can obtain waivers to use unmanned aerial vehicles (although professors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and University of Michigan added their names to the FAA letter).

These authorizations can take up to 10 months and are inconsistent, said Benjamin Heumann, director of the Center for Geographic Information Science at Central Michigan University, who uses drones to study wetlands around the Great Lakes.

He still waits for one certificate of authorization from the FAA five months after applying — too late this year to use it.

“It has made it very difficult for us to make plans to conduct our scientific research,” he said, “especially when we receive funding and there is a deadline to collect and analyze data.”

The FAA has received more than 30,000 responses to its recent interpretation and extended a public comment period until Sept. 23. In the meantime, the current regulations stand.

A spokesperson declined to discuss the professors’ specific concerns but said the agency issued “the ‘do’s and ‘don’ts’ to clarify the rules” after “reckless use” of unmanned aircraft in busy areas.

The FAA plans to propose new rules for unmanned aircraft under about 55 pounds in November. It still struggles with a September 2015 deadline set by Congress to open the skies to drones.

Businesses don’t want to wait.

Amazon this year hired a Washington firm to lobby for package deliveries by drone. Google recently bought a producer of solar-powered drones with aims to improve Internet access in remote areas. Even wedding photographers are starting to use unmanned aircraft for that perfect family shot.

Cheaper aircraft options draw interest from realtors, police, journalists, filmmakers, builders, surveyors, and even brewers. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates the industry will generate $82 billion in economic activity over the next decade.

“The FAA is having problems in basically controlling the introduction of [unmanned aerial vehicles] into air space,” said Philip Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at Teal Group, an aviation consulting firm based in Virginia. “The academic community has sort of gotten caught in the middle.”

Privacy groups also fret about flying objects that see into living rooms or monitor movements.

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced a bill last year to prohibit the agency from issuing licenses for drones without describing their purpose. The legislation, which has not made it out of committee, would also require the FAA to create a public website that lists much of that information.

“The use of drones for environmental monitoring and other research holds promise, yet at the same time there are perils from a privacy perspective,” Markey said in a statement to the Globe.

For now, professors are carving chunks from their curricula.

Chris Roosevelt, an associate professor of archeology at Boston University, uses a drone to map excavated ruins in western Turkey, where he does not face the same regulations. Roosevelt wants to teach his students how to operate the tool, but doesn’t see that as an option.

We’re “effectively hamstrung from offering current students, undergraduate and graduate, the proper training they need to even get their feet wet much less master one of the cutting- edge technologies,” he said. “To not offer this to students is a real handicap.”

Jessica Meyers can be reached at Follow her @jessicameyers.

Antarctica From Pole To Coast In Stunning Detail