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FodarEarth™ Uses Cesium to Map Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska

By: Stephanie Eftimiades
Dr. Matt Nolan sets out in his aircraft equipped with his home-built camera system on a mission to better understand the impacts of climate change in Alaska. A research professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dr. Nolan has spent the past 20 years designing new equipment to use in his remote field work to study climate-driven changes to the Alaskan landscape. Three years ago he decided his instruments needed an airborne perspective, so he learned to fly and has since logged 50,000 miles over Alaska, mapping topographic change on the centimeter level. His company, Fairbanks Fodar, emerged from academia using a cutting edge photogrammetric method which turns aerial photographs into topographic maps. Fairbanks Fodar provides mapping solutions for entities including the National Park Service, USGS, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Transportation, and National Geographic. Dr. Nolan notes, “Alaska’s terrain is especially sensitive to climate change because it is held together by ice. As that ice melts, massive changes can occur to the landscape that affect the infrastructure Alaskan’s depend on as well as create further feedbacks to the climate system. By detecting these changes before they become massive, we can better understand their dynamics and prepare to mitigate them. Until Fodar, there was simply no affordable way to map such small changes over large areas.” His recent work has amassed almost a terabyte of imagery and terrain data, including mines, glaciers and environmentally sensitive areas and he has been able to accurately depict coastal erosion, frost heave, permafrost melt, river ice jams, snow depth, and glacier change, and more. In order to bring this huge data set to the public, Dr. Nolan teamed up with Analytical Graphics’ (AGI) Cesium team who used the Cesium Globe Server to then layer this imagery and terrain data on a custom web-based globe called FodarEarth™.
“When we first got involved with Dr Nolan, seeing the highly accurate terrain and 3D visualizations his work required, we knew that Cesium was an obvious fit,” says Todd Smith, AGI director of geospatial technology.
The team implemented the Cesium Globe services that leverage Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a mechanism to store, process and host all of Dr. Nolan’s terrain and imagery data on the cloud. He simply grants access to the Cesium Globe services which then processes the imagery and terrain into a WMTS imagery service and a quantized mesh terrain service. This is then fed into the Cesium-based application. Satellites do a great job with providing updated imagery on a regular and affordable basis, but changes in topography are often overlooked. The next step for the Fodar – AGI partnership is to display a time-series of topography to measure and visualize changes. Dr. Nolan hopes that his methods, demonstrated through AGI’s Cesium app, will make the public, politicians and land managers aware of how dynamic the earth’s surface is and how valuable such information can be to them. Says Dr. Nolan, “With Cesium, anyone with an internet connection can see for themselves the impact that climate change is having on our topography, and this will hopefully stimulate them to consider what may be happening in their own backyards.”
Posted: 4/27/2015 9:21:08 PM