Monday, April 12, 2010

GIS Close to Home

Staff member Samantha Bulkilvish ‘09 is instructing students at Kent County and Easton High Schools as well as Chestertown Middle School the basics of GIS. She started by putting together a three week intensive course for the STEM students at KCHS which opened the door to the other two schools. Samantha hopes to open new doors for the students by teaching them skills like using Google SketchUp and Google Earth to create a 3-D model of their towns.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Aerial Adventure

This Sunday I spent the day with Hunter Harris of Aloft Aerial Photography. A few days before setting flight I contacted Hunter to see what I needed to do. After listening to his advice I chose to concentrate on getting images of 11 historic sites along the river. He also suggested that I bring extra clothes, as it is much colder in the sky.

We met at the Easton Airport Terminal a little after 10:30 and then I followed him to his hangar. While Hunter was getting ready for flight he had me condense my maps and put them into clear plastic envelopes so they would be easier to handle in the air.

As we taxied down the runway I got a good lesson on how airport traffic is handled. Hunter and I communicated in the plane through headsets which also broadcasted the control tower and of course Chestertown’s radio station, WCTR. I got some of the best shots I’ve ever taken or seen of the Chesapeake Bay area. The window to the left side of the pilot has a cut out so that the image won’t get distorted through glass. Hunter focused on getting shots of the historic houses, while I took shots of everything I could out my window. We spent about an hour in the air, and then it was time to land. Hunter dropped me off at the hanger with plans of taking a short break and then heading south in the plane to get some work done.

Being up in the air was like being on an hour long roller coaster ride. Hunter explained that as the earth heats up through the day warm air rises in columns. Sunday was no exception; there were plenty of bumps in the ride caused by these lifts. We traveled at amazing speeds. In no time at all we went from Easton, to Rock Hall, then back to Kent Island. We were even able to fly over my Uncle’s house in Huntingfield to say hello to my mother and father who were working in his yard! This was a very special experience, one that I will not soon forget. Thanks Hunter and Stew for giving me this opportunity.

-Reported by John Anderson '11

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Day on the Water

First day of hands-on field testing! My project for this year has been focused on water testing; in addition to collecting existing data from sources like USGS and the Maryland DNR, I'm hoping to set up a water testing network for GIS and Washington College students to use in the future. You could consider this my "beta testing stage," in a way - by going out and actually doing the water testing, when I write up my instructions for students to come, I can include details on what worked and didn't work.

We got an early start... VERY early, by college student schedules! I was up and in the chemistry lab at 8:15 AM to pick up the testing kits & other supplies, and by 8:45 we were headed down to the boathouse. We didn't get back until late afternoon, 5 PM or so. I was surprised that we covered so much ground, because I wasn't expecting to get too far beyond Cliffs City, but we got a lot done in one day. It was a beautiful day on the water: we were moving fast enough most of the time to have a pleasant breeze, but when we stopped it would warm up fast.

This was only my second time out on the boat, but this time we were well-equipped with lunch, drinks, sunscreen... All the essentials. Not to mention the water testing supplies, and my safety goggles and gloves, since I actually did all my testing and analysis while on the boat. When you're handling acids on a moving vessel, you want to make sure that you have all the appropriate gear on hand. Safety first! One of the nice things I discovered about the pontoon boat is that you can collect water samples by just laying on the end of the boat and sticking your arm in the water, which is very convenient, if a little funny-looking.

An interesting note about water sampling - one of the most important tests we performed, dissolved oxygen, is very finicky. It must be performed as soon as possible after the water sample is taken. Fish and other aquatic organisms need oxygen just like we do, and they rely on the oxygen dissolved in the water in order to breathe; too little oxygen in the water can result in a "dead zone" where nothing can live. But exposing a water sample to air for too long can change the amount of dissolved oxygen in it, and that's bad for your data. So that's why it was so important to do the testing on the boat, rather than waiting to do it on solid ground. Overall it worked pretty well.

Caryn and John met us at Cliffs City, and we spent the afternoon photographing historic houses, docks, and buoys. If you look at the map up above, you'll see a few places where our path doubles back on itself, or goes around in circles. That was us trying to get good photographs of all the buoys! A lot of them had writing on them, labeling special harvest areas and such. Stew thought it would be a good idea to get close-up photos of that writing. That way, we'd have the GPS points, and we would know what the buoys meant just by looking at the pictures. But sometimes it would take a few tries to get the angle just right... and sometimes we would just run into the buoy. Oops.

After plenty of exploration - you can see from the map that we almost made it to Rock Hall - we dropped Caryn and John off at Cliffs City again, and headed for home. I took one last water sample along the way home, and then we were done for the day. I'm hoping to get the chance to do this again soon!

-Reported by Emily Aiken '10

Monday, April 5, 2010

Eye on the Environment: GIS on the Chester

By: Elise Keller ‘10

The goal of GIS on the Chester is to make the Chester River the best mapped river in the United States, while providing accurate data that will help a variety of different groups, show people self-responsibility when using the river, and teach them protection measures needed to preserve the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay for future generations. Professor Stew Bruce’s students work on a different aspect of the project. Marta Laskowski ‘12 examines historic and recent oyster bars that are along the Chester River. She wants to map out oyster areas that are currently protected and others that will be protected under new legislation. Marta will identify watermen who fish for oysters and collect data on oyster fishing licenses. Matt Stiles ‘12 is mapping the locations of public boat landings and where they are on the river. He will also collect data about public fishing. Ellen Liebenow ’12 is working with Stew Bruce to locate point and nonpoint source pollution along the Chester River; they will then put the high polluters into a color coding map. Student Emily Aiken ’10 will collect water test data and then create a point file hyper linking the data to spatial locations. While each student works on something different, they collaborate in order to make the Chester River cleaner.