LAW & DISORDER / CIVILIZATION & DISCONTENTS New docs show drone landed on Lincoln head at Mount Rushmore in 2013

by  – Sept 27 2014, 10:05am EDT

Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota.

Of all of the drone incidents reported at national parks across the United States over the last year, one stands out: a small aircraft spotted over the Mount Rushmore site in South Dakota in September 2013. Within hours, in the shadow of the famous four busts of American presidents, National Park Service (NPS) employees confronted a group of six individuals at a park ice cream shop and seized their passports, memory cards, and mobile phones.

Drones have become something of a scourge at various national parks. In June 2014, the NPS banned the use of drones in all of its parks, following an initial ban in Yosemite National Park in California the previous month. Since then, rangers have taken notable steps to enforce the ban.

Earlier this week, a German man was sentenced to a one year ban from Yellowstone and was ordered to pay a $1,600 fine after he crashed a drone into Yellowstone lake. A Dutch tourist was ordered to pay over $3,200 after he crashed his drone into the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. One more case against an Oregon man remains pending in federal court in Wyoming.

In April 2014, a drone was spotted at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and anotherbuzzed over a herd of bighorn sheep at Zion National Park in Utah, apparently separating adults from young animals. In June 2014, a man posted a video of a drone shot in Alaska’s Denali National Park—a park spokeswoman told Ars that its presence disrupted a local bird population. In a separate incident in the same month, a man got his drone stuck in a tree at the Gros Ventre campground at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

But the new incident report from Mount Rushmore, which Ars acquired via a Freedom of Information Act request, illustrates the efforts that rangers are willing to go to in order to interdict drones. Ars also obtained new detailed information about the drone incidents at Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, and new information showing that the NPS has acquired a drone of its own for use at the Death Valley National Park.

Don’t drink while droning

According to his own report, on September 8, 2013, Joe Turgyan became one of four rangers involved in an attempt to locate the drone that had been spotted flying over Mt. Rushmore—it appeared that the drone “had landed on the top of the Lincoln bust and then took off.”

After going from the Visitor’s Center to a nearby parking garage, where he spent hours observing people moving about, Turgyan was then dispatched to a local ice cream shop two meet two other rangers that had gathered there and were questioning the drone operators.

Not long after, Turgyan searched three vehicles associated with the suspects, which turned up a drone battery, charger, a mini-USB to USB cable, $13,000 in cash, spare parts, manuals, and other curious items.

Aside from the evidence relate to the UAV, there was two empty airline-sized bottles of alcohol. These bottles were discovered in the cargo pocket behind the driver’s seat. An empty, red, plastic cup that smelled of an alcohol on seat behind the driver and consumed the alcohol. Both individuals stated that the occupants had been switching seats throughout the trip and they could not say who was responsible for the open containers of alcohol. I decided to disregard the open container violation and continued to focus on the UAV.

Turgyan explained to the man why flying drones in a crowded national park was risky and potentially dangerous. The man said that he was a helicopter pilot, and that he had previously flown it at Yellowstone National Park, but admitted that he had only owned the drone for a week. The drone and its memory card were seized as evidence.

The suspects, whose names were redacted in the records provided to Ars, could face criminal prosecution, particularly after the successful guilty pleas in the Yellowstone cases involving the two European men.

Turgyan did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for further comment.

“Two of these young men decided to go retrieve the unit”

Another incident revealed in the records involves a man from Merced, California, who went to Grand Canyon National Park in April 2014 with his three nieces. In a two-page letter to NPS regional officials, the man, whose name was redacted, wrote:

There young men have brought with them a remote controlled “helicopter” with 4 fan blades and they proceed to launch it. The peaceful moments of watching the sunset was subsequently shattered by the loud obnoxious buzzing of the unit. Fortunately this disturbance was short lived. After several forays out over the canyon, they lost control. About 100 feet out from the rim, the unit floundered and fell into the canyon. To the delight of many present.

After some discussion, two of these young men decided to go retrieve the unit. They scrambled down and were gone for over an hour before emerging with the unit. For anyone familiar with the area knows there are no trails here.

Does there now have to be a regulation prohibiting use of such aircraft when common sense and courtesy dictate it?

This incident ended “well.” But think of the possible consequences of losing control of the remote controlled aircraft. They did lose control!

What if the retrievers had gotten injured while on their mission?

What if the unit had impacted and fell onto one of the innocent park goers?

Or worse what if the unit had merely come near to someone, frightening them and they fell INTO the canyon (TOTALLY INNOCENT LIVES LOST?)?

Cameron Sholly, the associate director of visitor and resource protection, responded in her own letter to the man, saying that the NPS was working on banning drones, and other radio-controlled aircraft in all national parks.

Don’t scare the sheep

Just nine days after the Grand Canyon drone incident, volunteers at Zion National Park reported “the illegal use of a drone on the east side of the park that had harassed a group of Desert Bighorn Sheep.”

According to an NPS report:

Volunteers observed a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep acting unusual, racing back and forth across the road. At this location there is a wash below the [REDACTED] road (part of Clear Creek) that the sheep routinely access. They got out of their vehicle in their traffic vests to provide traffic control as visitors stopped vehicles in the roadway due to the sheep activity.

[NAME REDACTED] reported the whole herd was acting unusual, with running back and forth across the road instead of moving in a slow constant direction across the road grazing. [NAME REDACTED] stated that some of the adults traveled into the wash and then immediately turned around and headed back the way they came across the road and the young sheep were separated from the adults in the process as the herd splintered.

According to the report, the volunteers found the man operating the drone, explaining to him that drones were not allowed in the park. The report describes the man as “cooperative,” and “apologetic as he did know about the regulation and he stated to the that he had not seen the herd of sheep at the mouth of the wash. Once the drone was landed and inactive and the individuals were off to the side, the sheep’s activities normalized and the herd reunited and moved on into the wash.”

A double standard?

Perhaps the strangest revelation from the new NPS documents, however, is that Death Valley National Park itself acquired a drone in September 2010, with a federal grant of $15,000—nearly four years before the entire NPS banned drones outright.

As a March 2010 memo describes:

An [Unmanned Aerial System, or drone] operating as a component of the park aviation program can allow expanded availability of aerial reconnaissance and documentation for park management activities. Real-time video transmission and high-resolution still images provided by the UAS would be immediately available to support investigations and project management. Live video can be used to locate lost persons and direct rescuers during searches. Still images could be used to develop baseline documentation of known archaeological sites and further the surveying of previously undocumented sites and features.

Other documents show that Death Valley acquired a $15,000 Spectra drone made by RPFlight, and that as of September 2010, the relevant NPS authorities would apply for a Certificate of Authorization (COA) to fly the drone from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Neither NPS nor Death Valley National Park officials immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment as to where and how this drone has been used over the last four years.

Brendan Schulman, an attorney that has litigated on behalf of drone operators, told Ars that while he was unaware of the NPS owning its own drones, it is not unheard of for other non-military government agencies to maintain their own drones.

“There are dozens of federal agencies that use small non-military drones for very beneficial purposes,” he told Ars.

“For example, [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] uses them to study oceans and weather patterns. The [National Institute of Standards and Technology] has been using them to study wildfire movement patterns in order to protect homes and the lives of firefighters. These are important projects for the country that should not be overshadowed by misinformed concerns about privacy. The use of a drone in general does not necessarily pose any privacy issues. It is important to understand what the drone is being used for, just like any other technology.”

Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, who has studied drone law, told Ars that the government shouldn’t impose a double standard.

“I’ll say this: the government should not have a monopoly on drones, banning the use by the press and others while retaining the right themselves,” he said. “This is an important technology and there needs to be symmetry.”

India becomes the first Asian country to reach Mars

by John Bridges Sept 24 2014, 10:30am EDT

Mars has become the destination of choice for ambitious space agencies and nations, and now India is among that group. After a successful maneuver, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has entered an orbit about 420 km above the surface of Mars (MOM is informally called Mangalyaan, which is Hindi for Mars vehicle). It will soon begin to photograph the planet’s surface and analyze the atmospheric composition.

(Disclosure: As a member of two previous missions to Mars, I understand the excitement and challenges of landing, or in the case of Mangalyaan, orbital insertion. Waiting for a signal telling the ground staff about the mission’s fate must have been a nerve-wracking time for staff of the Indian Space Research Organization [ISRO].)

Attraction of the red planet

Ever since the earliest telescopic observations in the 17th and 18th centuries, Mars has shown tantalizing hints of seasons, water, and active geological processes. Over the centuries, our understanding about Mars has changed as the resolution of telescopes and spacecraft cameras and spectrometers has greatly improved.

Today, as a result of the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, we know that the red planet once had thick mudstones deposited in large lakes. Drilling by Curiosity has shown us that red color of Mars—the result of iron reacting with oxygen—is only skin deep. Underneath that thin layer of red is a very different planet. This well-preserved history we’re discovering may eventually hold clues to the presence of microbial life on Mars.

This is one reason why Mangalyaan and the American MAVEN mission, which entered orbit on September 21, are exciting. They will both be looking for the presence of methane, which could inject fresh energy into the debate over life on Mars. Future rover missions, such as the European Space Agency’s ExoMars or NASA’sMars2020 carrying new specialized instrumentation, may provide a definitive answer.

Faster, cheaper, better

ISRO’s achievement is special for other reasons, too. Not only is it the first Asian country to reach Mars, but it is also the world’s cheapest mission to do so. Other aspiring space agencies have been watching, and they will want to learn from India’s experience.

At an advertised cost of $72 million, it is a small fraction of the $671 million MAVEN mission. A part of the reason for the frugality is the cost of instruments. Although the underlying lure of Mars is scientific, Mangalyaan is primarily a technology demonstration. Its camera, for instance, will not match that of other Martian probes. Similarly, it will not match MAVEN’s ability to measure the rate at which certain chemicals are lost from Mars’ atmosphere.

But the instruments on a space mission, such as those on the planned European rover ExoMars or Curiosity, cost about 10 percent of the overall mission cost. So even if that is factored in, Mangalyaan’s shoe-string budget remains striking.

The biggest cost saving for Mangalyaan came from using ISRO’s existing telecommunications satellite launcher, called the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Although it couldn’t carry a heavier payload, it was able to push Mangalyaan on the way to Mars for a fraction of the cost. This success will appeal to future commercial users of the ISRO’s launch services. Countries as diverse as Algeria, Israel, Singapore, and Switzerland have been served by ISRO’s commercial arm. With Mangalyaan’s success, more are sure to follow.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation.

Global carbon dioxide emissions in one convenient map

by  – Sept 25 2014, 11:05am EDT

When we talk about greenhouse gas emissions, it’s usually in the form of one big number (bigger every year) representing the global total. There’s also the concentration of CO­2 in the atmosphere, which knows no borders. When it comes time to talk policy (during UN climate negotiations, for example), national totals for the top emitters will enter the conversation—too often to aid an argument that some other country should be the one to start doing all the work.

Many researchers need to zoom in much further, though, to really understand what’s going on. It’s a problem you can attack from the top—starting with national totals and spreading them across the country in some detail—or from the bottom, utilizing local measurements and emissions records.

A group of researchers led by Arizona State’s Salvi Asefi-Najafabady has produced the highest-resolution map of emissions yet, making the reality of our greenhouse footprint a little more real. It shows exactly where the most work remains to be done as we seek to unshackle ourselves from the fossil fuels that have brought great benefits, for which the bill is finally coming due.

Using a number of data sets, the researchers produced global maps of emissions at a resolution of 0.1° latitude and longitude (about 11 kilometers at the equator) for 1997 through 2010. Their approach was a combination of “top-down” and “bottom-up.” They were careful to use national emissions totals as checks, but for each grid cell they calculated emissions based on things like population density (both from census data and satellite images of nighttime lights), economic activity, the emissions intensity of that economic activity, and records from power plants.

The end result is a map showing exactly how much CO2 is emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, with enough detail to pick out individual cities.

Enlarge / Total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2010.

Of course, once you have that, you could break it down in any number of ways, like emissions per capita. With 14 years of these maps, the researchers do some analysis of trends. Over the short tem, you can clearly see the effect of the economic downturn. In 2010, emissions in most areas were on the rebound as economies picked up. But while emissions were increasing in the northern half of the Eastern US, they were still declining in the southern half—the product of a lagging recovery. This is especially noticeable given that the reverse of this pattern was present in 2006.

Over the long term, the growth of emissions in China, India, and several other hotspots is apparent. Many regions show slight decreases in emissions, but with growth concentrated in urban areas. The researchers illustrate geographic shifts in emissions in an interesting way, calculating a “center of mass” for emissions each year—the balancing point around which emissions are equal. Splitting the globe into a two-dimensional map along the International Date Line in the Pacific, the 1997 center of mass was in the Mediterranean Sea, south of the heel of Italy’s boot. But by 2010, it had moved far to the east and a bit to the south, reaching Jordan, as the result of increasing emission in China and Southeast Asia.

Enlarge / The “center of mass” of global emissions, from 1997 to 2010.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, as the old saying goes. These pictures might be worth a few more. Since carbon dioxide is an invisible gas, it takes careful research to help us see our emissions in another way.

Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2014. DOI: 10.1002/2013JD021296  (About DOIs).

Listing image by Asefi-Najafabady et al./JGR:Atmospheres/AGU

Crime Data Analysis Using MapInfo: A Tutorial  Monday, 22 Sep 2014, By Nick Williams

In this article, Nick Williams, a trainer at Acuity Training, walks through the steps necessary to carry out an analysis of crime data using MapInfo.

In this tutorial, Nick Williams, a trainer at Acuity Training, details the steps necessary to perform crime data analysis using MapInfo and data from Guildford, UK. Included are details on:

  • Importing data from spreadsheets
  • Importing data in other GIS formats
  • Joining data based on spatial relationships
  • Creating buffers
  • Counting the number of points within a buffer or polygon


These tutorials will count the number of crime incidents for March 2014 within set distances of the Guildford, UK town center and also group incidents by ward boundaries. I have used the example of crime incidents and ward boundaries because the datasets are openly available. I have used similar techniques in the water industry to map complaints and assign them to distribution zones. Alternatively you might use a similar technique to assign customers to store catchment areas.

The following examples use freely downloadable data:

Please note that these are purely examples that I have created for this tutorial. They are not intended to give any opinions on crime levels or policing.

Importing data to MapInfo

Import the crime data into MapInfo and map the points

The crime incidents spreadsheet contains longitude and latitude coordinates. MapInfo can use these to create points.

Interested?  Click to continue the tutorial.


Mapping Could help stop Ebola’s Spread Monday, September 22nd 2014 By David Callahan/The Royal Institute of Technology

Whether it’s the Black Death of 1350 or the Ebola virus in West Africa, one thing deadly pandemics have in common is that their progress takes a geographical course. But researcher Lars Skog at KTH Royal Institute of Technology is one of those developing geoinformation systems that can help health workers predict the spread of a disease and stop it.

Like the Black Death that ravaged medieval Europe, the Ebola virus’ progress through remote areas of West Africa is enabled by lack of understanding about the disease, including its causes and transmission.

Mapping technology however will give responders to the crisis in Africa the upper hand in stopping the spread of the deadly disease, says Skog, a PhD in geoinformatics.

Lars Skog

Lars Skog

Skog’s research has produced a method that medical professionals can use to visualise the geographical distribution of a disease over time. In his research, Skog has explored the relationship between geography and disease distribution in major epidemics of the past, including the Black Death, the Russian Flu pandemic of 1889, the Asiatic Influenza of 1957 and the swine flu. He says the historical data provides a basis for predicting the course of future epidemics and pandemics.

“My research and method can also be used to report the current state of a pandemic, or predict how extensive the spread will be. And where the disease will strike next,” Skog says.

In fact, the way in which Black Death spread during the mid 14th, century bears a no small resemblance to today’s Ebola epidemic, he says. Both diseases were hosted by small mammals – black rats and fruit bats, respectively. But ultimately it was humans that enabled its spread.

“The Black Death was very much depending on total lack of knowledge regarding the etiology of the disease and how to avoid further transmission,” Skog says. “That is also the case for the mainly remote locations where Ebola now is spread.”

Fruit bats are believed to be the natural hosts of Ebola. These bats are among the creatures that residents of rural West Africa hunt for “bush meat”. The disease is also spread by the droppings of the bat, and it is believed to have spread to other types of bush meat, as well as monkeys and pigs that are raised for slaughter.

“The local population is getting part of their nourishment from bush hunting, leading to contact with the virus that is transmitted via body fluids,” Skog says, suggesting that closer study of the fruit bat could provide vital answers.

A map depicts the status of the Ebola outbreak on August 21.

A map depicts the status of the Ebola outbreak on August 21. (Map provided courtesy of Esri*)

“A guess of mine is that the number of infected fruit bats is a determining factor for an Ebola outbreak,” he says. “Are there any known factors that may have changed the ecosystem in favor of the bats? Are the bats affected by the virus too? Do fruit bats always carry the Ebola virus or is the virus fatal to them as well? If so the percentage of infected bats will vary over the years also depending on the immunology of the species.”

There are a number of geoinformation technology options available to public health organizations that have sent field crews to respond to the crisis. These, Skog says, including equipping field workers with hand-held GPS devices that feed a central database with data and findings regarding locations of bodies, possible infections and diagnosed cases personnel.

“The data can easily be centrally monitored and used for decisions and policies to mitigate the spread,” he says. “Using satellite imagery, population centers can be localized. Collected disease data can also be compared and analysed with environmental and climatologic data to support other efforts to control the spread.”

For instance, assuming that fruit bats are the reservoir for the ebola virus, Skog says it would be of interest to find out if the first detected cases in an outbreak are located in or close to a fruit bat habitat. “If the environmental and climatologic parameters for fruit bat habitats can be defined, there is a chance these habitats could be mapped using existing map data and satellite or airborne imagery,” he says.

“Then risk areas could be monitored and preventive measures could be performed by health authorities. If the natural reservoir is in fact some other animal, positioning the first cases in each outbreak would still give a clue about what to look for.”

*Data for the map provided courtesy of Esri, DeLorme, NAVTEQ, increment P Corp., EPA, USGS, and NPS. The Ebola data was provided by Direct Relief.


First shortwave infrared images taken with Exelis system on DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 satellite released


Commercial space imager can “see” through smoke for the first time

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — (BUSINESS WIRE) — September 24, 2014 — The Exelis-built ( NYSE: XLS) shortwave infrared imager (SWIR) on DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 satellite cut through a thick cloud of smoke to capture images of an active forest fire, marking the first time this capability has been commercially available from a satellite platform.

Exelis built the integrated, super-spectral imaging system, which includes a telescope, sensor and SWIR system, for the WorldView-3 satellite. This effort is a part of the Exelis strategic focus on advancing intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and analytics technologies. The advanced imaging system is the first of its kind on a high-resolution commercial imaging satellite and allows DigitalGlobe to expand its imagery product offerings to now include images taken through smoke or other atmospheric conditions. The satellite launched in August from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and is now in orbit 617 kilometers above Earth.

Taken above the Happy Camp complex in California’s Klamath National Forest, the images show an active fire beneath a thick cloud of smoke. Hot spots are clearly visible even without being shown at full resolution.

“These images show how SWIR technology can directly benefit firefighters and help save lives,” said Rob Mitrevski, vice president and general manager of Exelis Geospatial Systems. “SWIR can remove some of the guesswork in determining where hot spots are to help firefighters plan their approach. SWIR can also benefit other areas and industries where the need for accurate imaging through haze, fog, dust, smoke and other airborne particulates is important.”

WorldView-3 capabilities will help solve tough customer problems across a variety of applications, including accurate crop mapping; efficient site selection, exploration and environmental monitoring for the energy industry; and mineral identification and chemical measurements to support mining.

Other imaging systems provided by Exelis include those on DigitalGlobe’s IKONOS, QuickBird, WorldView-1, GeoEye-1 and WorldView-2 satellites. DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-4 satellite, planned for launch in mid-2016, will also carry an Exelis-built imager.

We Will Rock You – Geologic Map Day

Sep 23, 2014 — Celebrate the third annual Geologic Map Day! On October 17, as a part of the Earth Science Week 2014 activities, join leading geoscience organizations in promoting awareness of the importance of geologic mapping to society.

Geologic maps are vital to education, science, business, and public policy concerns. Geologic Map Day will focus the attention of students, teachers, and the general public on the study, uses, and significance of these tools, by engaging audiences through educational activities, print materials, online resources, and public outreach opportunities.

Be sure to check out the Geologic Map Day poster included in this year’s Earth Science Week Toolkit. The poster and other materials in the kit show how geologic maps can be used to understand natural hazards as well as providing step-by-step instructions for a related classroom activity focusing on the Grand Canyon. Additional resources for learning about geologic maps can be found on the Geologic Map Day web page.

Geologic Map Day partners include the American Geosciences Institute ( AGI), the Association of American State Geologists, the U.S. Geological Survey, theNational Park Service, the Geological Society of America, and Esri.

To learn more, please visit To order your Toolkits, please visit You may also call AGI Publications to place your order at 703-379-2480.

For more information, go to:

Geologic map of the conterminous
                              United States at 1:2,500,000 scale.
Geologic map of the conterminous United States at 1:2,500,000 scale. ( High resolution image)

The U.S. Geological Survey is partnering with the American Geosciences Institute, the Association of American State Geologists and others to promote the importance of geologic mapping to society.

Live Training Seminar: Power Your Enterprise with ArcGIS Apps

Improve Field-to-Office Workflows and Provide Wider Access to Maps and Data with ArcGIS Apps

Learn the Basics in Just One Hour

What & When
Esri’s ArcGIS comes with a core set of mapping apps: Collector for ArcGIS, Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS, and Explorer for ArcGIS. You can use this trio of apps to find, use, make, and share maps. In the online seminar Power Your Enterprise with ArcGIS Apps, you will learn what each app does; what differentiates one from the others; and how the three together can help you collect data, manage operations, and boost the overall productivity and efficiency of your organization’s ArcGIS platform.

Instructions for Viewing the Seminar

  • Log in up to 30 minutes before the seminar begins.
  • You will need an Esri Account. If you don’t have one, you can create one here.


If you’re unable to attend the seminar, you’ll be able to view it in the recorded seminars archive shortly after the live session ends.


Add to Your Calendar
Power Your Enterprise with ArcGIS Apps Thursday, September 25 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. (PDT)