An OpenROV at Lake Merritt. Photo by author.
In 1946, Jacques Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan released the Aqualung, forever changing the way humans interact with the oceans. No longer tethered to the surface, entombed in thick, restrictive helmets, we could dive deeper, stay down longer, and explore the dark places snorkelers and free divers feared to fin. The Aqualung opened up the ocean to an entirely new cohort. Ocean exploration, once the domain of well-resourced scientists, career explorers, and the wealthy elite, was now within the reach of the global middle class.
Buoyed by the Aqualung, Marine Science exploded. Marine life could be studied alive and in situ. Behavior could be observed rather than inferred from the stressed and shredded samples of a trawl. The ranks of marine biologists, oceanographers, and explores swelled to numbers that began to gradually approach the relative significance of the ocean to the living world.
We’re just getting started.
Marine science is on the brink of the greatest sea change since JYC and Gagnan introduced the Aqualung to the world.
[Note, this is a press release for an ongoing project of which Amy and myself are involved.]
Monday, May 26, 2014 — In September 2013, a large wildfire, ignited by careless target shooters, blazed across Mt. Diablo, leaving 3,100 acres of state park scorched. Wildfires are an important component of chaparral ecosystems, clearing the way for younger growth to take hold, but monitoring recovery after wildfires is an intensive prospect for over-committed park staff. Enter the Nerds for Nature and their change monitoring brackets.
Inspired by monitorchange.org (created by Sam Droege of the U.S. Geological Survey), Nerds for Nature combined low-tech angle brackets with high-tech smart phones to allow hikers to help monitor the ongoing fire recovery. Park visitors are invited to take pictures at predefined locations, aligning their phones against a simple angle bracket that ensures images will center on the same area. Photos are then uploaded to one of several social media services, where a program scrapes the publicly available images and compiles a time lapse video.
Last year, over 3,000 acres of Mount Diablo State Park were scorched by the Morgan Wildfire. The fire, likely started by target shooters, caused 75 homes to be evacuated and left the park closed to visitors for weeks. The park is now open and the massive fire scar is beginning to heal.
Nerds for Nature, URS, and the Mount Diablo Park service have teamed up to promote wildfire education and harness the enthusiasm of the park’s visitors to monitor fire recovery. Throughout the park, a series of signs will inform hikers about the Morgan Fire and direct them to a fixed bracket where they can line of their smart phone, take a picture, and tweet it to the MorganFire hashtags (#morganfire01, #morganfire02, #morganfire03, #morganfire04, depending on location). As the area recovers, those picture will be pooled to create a long-term documentation of change.
This is an incredibly innovative use of citizen scientist and I’d love to see more recovery projects adopt this model. The next time your hiking in Mount Diablo, keep an eye for the Fire Brackets. Amy and I were out there this weekend, contributing to wildfire recovery monitoring.