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geospatial matters

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Hold the date! January 15th for a workshop on Open Tools with ESRI

More information coming soon. 

On January 15th we will hold a full day free workshop on Open Mapping Tools using ESRI. 


Upcoming FREE GIF workshops

The GIF is highlighting 2 brand new workshops in the upcoming weeks. Because these are the first time we've done these sessions, I'm happy to announce that we are offering them free of charge to UC Berkeley students, researchers, faculty, and staff. The workshop seats will be filled on a first come first serve basis. Space is limited, so please register at: 

New Workshop: Intro to Geospatial Analysis using R 

This new workshop is designed for participants who are already familiar with GIS and spatial analysis concepts who are interested in using R. The presentation will introduce attendees to major spatial packages and concepts within the R environment. We will step through hands-on exercises exploring tools and methods for analyzing environmental data within R, and supply information for participants to continue their exploration of these methods in their own research projects.

Location: 124 Mulford Hall

Day: Friday, November 20th 

Time: 1:00-4:30 pm 

New Workshop: Web GIS and Mobile Data Collection using ArcGIS Online

This workshop is designed for participants with little to no GPS, GIS or web mapping experience. The workshop will include an interactive exercise that will have you building your own mobile data collection survey to be used with your Smartphone GPS. You will then see how this survey application seamlessly integrates with ArcGIS Online to create a web map that displays the survey results in real time.This course content is the result of a collaborative effort between UC ANR IGIS Statewide Program, and the UC Berkeley, Geospatial Innovation Facility (GIF)

Location: 124 Mulford Hall

Day: Friday, December 4th 

Time: 1:00-4:30 pm 

Register for these new training opportunities today! Space will fill up quickly, so make sure you register soon if you are interested. Also, feel free to pass this email onto your colleagues who may also be interested. If you have any questions, contact Nancy Thomas at


California Economic Summit wrap-up

my wordle cloud on topics commonly discussed at the summit

I spent two days at the California Economic Summit, held this year in Ontario, heart of the "inland empire". I learned much about this region of the state that I know mostly as freeways connecting water polo games, or as endless similar roads through malls and housing developments. It is more populous, diverse, and vibrant than I had realized. The conference itself was very different from any that I have been to. Hardly any presentations, but break-out groups, passionate, inspiring panelists, tons of networking, good overviews, multiple perspectives, and no partisanship.

Here are some interesting facts about California that I did not know: 

  • 80% of CEQA lawsuits are related to urban infill development. Shocking. We need infill development as a sensible solution to a growing California. 
  • 1 in 3 children in the Central Valley live in poverty. 1 in 4 kids live in poverty in the inland empire. These rates are WORSE than they have been ever. 
  • The Bay Area is an anomaly in terms of education, income, health, voting rates, broadband adoption. The Bay Area is not representative of the state!
  • Think of a west-east line drawn across the state to demark the population halfway line. Where might it be? No surprise it is moving south. Now it runs almost along Wilshire Blvd in LA!
  • Empowering the Latino community in the state is going to be key in continued success. 
  • Broadband adoption around the state is highly variable: Latino, poor and disabled communities are far below other communities in terms of adoption. 
  • The first beer made with recyled water has been made by Maverick's Brewing Company. 
  • Dragon Fruit might be the new water-wise avocado. Good anti-oxidents, massive vitamin C, good fiber, etc. They taste a bit like a less sweet kiwi, with a bit of texture from the seeds. I don't think I'd like the quac, however. 
  • In 15 years, the state will be in a deficit of college graduates needed to meet skilled jobs. Those 2030 graduates are in 1st grade now, so we can do some planning. 
  • Access, affordability, and attainability are the cornerstones of our great UC system. 

In every session I attended I heard about the need for, and lack of collaboration between agencies, entities, people, in order to make our future better. Here is my wordle cloud of discussion topics, from my biased perspective, or course. 


Honorary Geographer Maya Lin

When entertaining out of town visitors in the Bay Area you have a bounty of choices. Many years ago I took visitors to SFMOMA and stumbled into a Maya Lin exhibit. It blew my mind, and I've been a fan ever since. (I've even invited her to give a geolunch talk, but alas it has not happened.) At that time, I had no idea she was the the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which I found to be a sublime work of reverance. She makes art with strong clear forms that echo the earth. I think what she does resonates with me so much because the idea of spatial representation of geographic form is for me the heart of all we do in science, yet it allows for deep and immediate understanding of place. Whenever I see one of her pieces, I "get" it very quickly, and always feel a little bit happier. Art, what can you say. 

Maya Lin: SF Bay @ Brower CenterShe had a small installation recently in the Brower Center in Berkeley. It was lovely. I can't find it on her website, so you will have to trust this. I include one picture here at left.  It is a representation of the Bay, made in some kind of metal, mounted flush on the wall.  In the same show she had a model of the Sacramento River made from silver stick pins, also mounted on the wall - very fluid and playful with light. I use a slide of her model of the SF Bay shown here as an into into my lectures on modeling (also a shot of the weird and wonderful SF Bay model in Sausalito, more about that anon). 
Her most recent work at the Smithsonian's newly renovated Renwick Gallery uses green marbles to model the Chesapeake Bay. It is a stunning piece, I wish I could be there. I read about the work here.  
Maya Lin: Chesapeake Bay, Smithsonian
Her description of a recent (2008) installation at the California Academy of Sciences in SF "Where the Land Meets the Sea" says: "By using science and technology in her artwork to create new ways of looking at the environment, Maya Lin's work inspires viewers to pay closer attention to the natural world." I think that is true, but it is also true that it is pleasing because it is so apart from the natural world and yet so resonant with it. If that makes any sense. The work is below:
Maya Lin's Where the Land Meets the Sea at Cal Academy in 2008
In that piece (picture above) modeling the shape of the SF Bay, the terrain (or bathymetry) is based on data supplied by the U.S. Geological Survey, among others, and represents a 1:700 scale with a vertical exaggeration of 5 times above sea level and 10 times below. Sea level is 18 feet above the terrace.
Looking forward to seeing more of her work, in person if possible. 



National Park moved 150 miles to the east to take up role as urban escape

Here is a funny response to a major map error on Google Maps, found last month. From BBC Wales:

The gorgeous Brecon Beacons was erroneously positioned outside of downtown London. The technical error has directed people searching for the national park more than 150m (241km) away to a location between Chelsea and Knightsbridge.

Brecon Beacons National Park Authority posted the image online with the caption: "We have now moved. Londoners get an upgrade thanks to Google Maps."

Chief executive John Cook joked: "Well the move has come as a bit of a shock to us all."

He added: "I'm sure it will come as good news to Londoners who want some fresh mountain air on their doorstep.

"The truth is we are only three hours away from London - don't rely on your sat-nav or Google Maps - just head to Bristol on the M4, cross the bridge, ask a local and they'll know exactly where to find us."

Hilarious response. I've been walking on the Beacons exactly once, and it was divine. 


2005-2015: A decade of intense innovation in mapping

The GIF began in November 2015 on a wave of excitement around geospatial technology. In the months leading up to our first GIS Day in 2005, Google Maps launched, then went mobile; Google Earth launched in the summer; and NASA Blue Marble arrived. Hurricane Katrina changed the way we map disasters in real time. The opening up of the Landsat archive at no-cost by the USGS revolutionized how we can monitor the Earth's surface by allowing dense time-series analysis. These and other developments made viewing our world with detail, ease, and beauty commonplace, but these were nothing short of revolutionary - spurring new developments in science, governance and business. The decade since then has been one of intense innovation, and we have seen a rush in geospatial technologies that have enriched our lives immeasurably. In November 2015 we can recognize a similar wave of excitement around geospatial technology as we experienced a decade ago, one that is more diverse and far reaching than in 2005. This GIS Day we would like to highlight the societal benefit derived from innovators across academia, non-profits, government, and industry. Our panel discussion on the 18th has representatives from several local innovators in the field, including: Stamen Designs, Geowing, PlanetLabs, 3D Robotics, NASA,, and Google, who will discuss their perspectives on the boom in Bay Area mapping. 

Please think about joining us at GIS Day!


Robert Colwell Musings Part 2

I started this last year when I was working on a retrospective of remote sensing of forests in California for the centennial of Berkeley Forestry. In the article I tried to highlight some of the pioneering work done by remote sensors that focused on Californian forests from the 1960s through the use of lidar today. As is often the case, the paper changed into something a bit more focused on lidar technology, and I had to cut most of the Colwell stuff. So, I reprise some information about him here, add my perspective on his work as antecedants to modern OBIA approaches, and include his rad interior design ideas. 

Early musings on forest objects by Colwell in 1964.

Dr. Colwell was an internationally renowned remote sensing scientist; he was former associate director of the Space Sciences Laboratory at the UC Berkeley, and he was the instructor of remote sensing in our own Mulford Hall from 1947 until his retirement in 1983. He was NASA co-investigator for Apollo IX, and his research in the 1960s on reflectance and multispectral reconnaissance were the primary basis for selecting the type of sensors and the spectral bands implemented in Landsat. Neat guy, and we all benefit from his intellectual legacy.

Finding meaningful blobs - a geographer’s quest

In our new Taylor and Francis book chapter, Thomas Blaschke, Helena Merschdorf, and I discuss Object-Based Image Analysis: Evolution, History, State of the Art, and Future Vision (Book website).  I did some work looking into Colwell's work, and found lots of discussion of nascent work describing object based approaches to image analysis. He struggled with the inability of algorithms to pull from digital imagery meaningful "blobs". See the examples here. 

One of Colwell's early attempts at object based work from 1973. Printout on a dot matrix printer?

His assessment of the potential for automation of an object recognition process depended on the capacities of a digital scanner and the ability of an algorithm to assess the differences, in photographic tone, between a "blob" and its surroundings (Colwell 1964, 1965). Colwell was an important advisor on the Landsat 1 mission, and his ideas on extraction of meaningful features transferred to his ambitions for the satellite missions (Colwell 1973). 

Maps as hipster decorations

I read some of his work as he transitioned from aerial photography to digital imaging, and I came across this picture. Mulford is just off the scene in the upper left corner, and Hearst Gym pool is visible in lower part. 

Oblique aerial view of Berkeley Campus of University of California taken with Camouflage Detection film. Robert N. Colwell

In his caption he says:

"Oblique aerial view of Berkeley Campus of University of California taken with Camouflage Detection film."(That is what they used to call color infrared.) "Such photography is superior to any other for certain photo interpretation purposes as indicated by some of the preceding examples. Note in this photo how color values for each species of tree tend to remain uniform from foreground to background because of the superior haze penetration offered by this film. The relatively long wavelengths to which this infrared-sensitive film reacts are scattered but very little by atmospheric haze particles, thus accounting for the uniform color values and for excellent image sharpness." I dig this part: "The original color transparencies have the same color values as seen here and consequently make very attractive panels for lamp shades, although certain of their colors fade upon prolonged exposure to light."

The trend for using map products as kitchy home decorations PRE-DATES 1970! Take that hipsters!

Articles mentioned:

Colwell, R.N. 1964. Aerial photography - A valuable sensor for the scientist. American Scientist, Vol. 52, No. 1 (MARCH 1964), pp. 16-49

Colwell, R.N., 1973. Remote Sensing as an Aid to the Management of Earth Resources. American Scientist. 61(2): 175-183.

Some more about him here:


Fun with drones and trees

A bit late, but better late than never. Our October trip to Hopland with IGIS and 3DRobotics was great fun, and very informative. We tested the ‘Solo’ UAV with three different cameras: the typical GoPro, NIR GoPro (with post-market monkeying with filters to get IR), and a high res Canon lens.  

Key points:

  • 3DR’s flight planning software is ridiculously easy to set up and use.  
  • 3DR’s new software package can do the mosaicking. 
  • 3D models from multiple images seem easy to create. 
  • Still want to put a better scientific camera with more bands on the Solo. 

Still, lots of fun, stay tuned for more pics and an evaluation of the collected imagery. 



New job opening @ Berkeley: geospatial informatics program coodinator

Academic Coordinator III Position

The University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), Informatics and Geographic Information Systems (IGIS) Program is seeking a Statewide Program Coordinator for both local and statewide program development and delivery. The IGIS Statewide Program seeks to provide innovation, technology, training, and data support for UC ANR’s research and extension mission through the collection, analysis and visualization of geospatial data. We are interested in developing and delivering data-driven tools, research results, and training to support UC ANR Strategic Initiatives: Endemic and invasive pests and diseases, Healthy families and communities, Sustainable food systems, Sustainable natural ecosystems, and Water quality, quantity and security.

The program coordinator will help fulfill the goals of the IGIS Program by facilitating the delivery of research, training, and data support to the UC ANR network. We are looking for a highly specialized academic who will provide vision and leadership on geospatial data resources, analysis and visualization that will serve multiple scientific constituencies at the state and national level. These data resources include: sensor networks, ecological datasets, existing statewide research databases, web-based data frameworks such as APIs, open data collections, and remote sensing collections. 

This is a unique academic position within the University of California that allows for intellectual growth, interaction with multiple scientists and academics, and the development of impactful datadriven solutions to California’s agricultural and natural resource challenges. 

If you have questions, you can email me:


Closing Date: December 31, 2015

Job Description: Download
Download Application: Word | PDF

Minimum and Required Qualifications:

  • A PhD Degree in Ecology, Geography, Agriculture, Statistics, or an appropriate related field with experience in data science, geographic information sciences, remote sensing, or ecological informatics is required. 
  • Experience synthesizing large ecological or socio-ecological datasets and using them in complex local and statewide research projects is required. 
  • Experience developing and managing research projects including agriculture, ecology, or climate change is required. 
  • Experience using GIS, remote sensing, and/or web programming software is required. 
  • The ability to communicate and extend technical information in an understandable manner is required. 
  • Strong leadership, administration, financial, and management skills are required. 
  • Knowledge of human relations is required including the ability to work with people with a diversity of views and values, to motivate people and adapt to changing situations.



MODIS and R: a dream partnership

Found by Natalie: 

Tuck, Sean L., Helen RP Phillips, Rogier E. Hintzen, Jörn PW Scharlemann, Andy Purvis, and Lawrence N. Hudson. "MODISTools–downloading and processing MODIS remotely sensed data in R." Ecology and evolution 4, no. 24 (2014): 4658-4668. And it is Open Access!


Remotely sensed data available at medium to high resolution across global spatial and temporal scales are a valuable resource for ecologists. In particu- lar, products from NASA’s MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), providing twice-daily global coverage, have been widely used for eco- logical applications. We present MODISTools, an R package designed to improve the accessing, downloading, and processing of remotely sensed MODIS data. MODISTools automates the process of data downloading and processing from any number of locations, time periods, and MODIS products. This auto- mation reduces the risk of human error, and the researcher effort required compared to manual per-location downloads. The package will be particularly useful for ecological studies that include multiple sites, such as meta-analyses, observation networks, and globally distributed experiments. We give examples of the simple, reproducible workflow that MODISTools provides and of the checks that are carried out in the process. The end product is in a format that is amenable to statistical modeling. We analyzed the relationship between spe- cies richness across multiple higher taxa observed at 526 sites in temperate for- ests and vegetation indices, measures of aboveground net primary productivity. We downloaded MODIS derived vegetation index time series for each location where the species richness had been sampled, and summarized the data into three measures: maximum time-series value, temporal mean, and temporal vari- ability. On average, species richness covaried positively with our vegetation index measures. Different higher taxa show different positive relationships with vegetation indices. Models had high R2 values, suggesting higher taxon identity and a gradient of vegetation index together explain most of the variation in species richness in our data. MODISTools can be used on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, and is available from CRAN and GitHub ( seantuck12/MODISTools).