During the past few days, I had the opportunity to participate in BioBlitz 2012 at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA. BioBlitz (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/projects/bioblitz/bioblitz-co-2012/) is a 10-year partnership between the US National Park Service and National Geographic with 3 goals: Highlight the diversity of national parks by conducting a taxonomic inventory, public outreach, and to inspire young people to pursue careers in science and geography. The citizen science focus to the event reinforced the concepts that Jill Clark and I wrote about in the book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data. Nowhere was this clearer than when I went into the field to collect and categorize macroinvertebrates in a montane stream in the shadow of Longs Peak with 40 students aged 11 to 13.
After collecting the data over a period of five hours, the macroinvertebrate data was then identified by the students according to a detailed classification chart. I was very impressed by the students’ diligence and teamwork. The data was then input into a web-GIS called FieldScope, created by National Geographic and based in part on Esri technology, and viewable that evening online by anyone on the web.
All told, hundreds of students, over 100 scientists, and thousands of the general public collected data for two days, resulting in over 400 bird, fungi, macroinvertebrate, animal, and vascular plant species that had never been documented in this particular national park before.
As citizen science projects gain in popularity, enabled by powerful yet easy-to-use web-GIS and field collection instruments, the challenge becomes: How can data collected by a wide variety of people with a wide variety of backgrounds be managed and cataloged in such a way that is not only useful, but also, through metadata, allows people to understand who collected it, and how it was collected, categorized, and input into the GIS?
In Feb 2012 Frank Jacobs wrote an article in the opinion pages of the The New York Times about The First Google Map Wars. The article recalled a day in Nov. 2010 when a Nicaraguan official strayed into neighbouring Costa Rica’s territory. When asked to defend his actions, the official simply replied he wasn’t trespassing according to Google Maps, which did indeed appear to indicate that particular piece of ground belonged to Nicaragua. In an attempt to settle the subsequent dispute, Google agreed to adjust the border.
We reported a similar incident in The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data about a dispute between India and Pakistan over the misrepresentation of the border between Pakistan and the disputed territory of Kashmir. Following threats of action from the Indian Government, Google again agreed to adjust their map of the region and tensions were, for the time being, diffused.
Many of us have become accustomed to using Google, Bing and other on-line mapping resources for many of our quick location-related queries. However, good as they are these resources are not infallible and mistakes do happen. As Jacobs comments, the boundaries depicted by Google Maps remain an unauthorised representation of borders and place names and ‘…popularity does not bestow authority’.