Sabbatical in China in the spring...

Sabbatical report April 2019

I’ve been on sabbatical now for a few months, and it’s time to report. I’ve been working on updating all my course materials: slides, reading and labs, for the fall. This has been a blast, and a lot of work! Especially the labs. We are finally moving to ArcGIS Pro, people! It’s been scary, but thanks to some excellent on-line resources, including this list of excellent tutorials from Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne and from ESRI (Getting started with Pro) we are making progress. Shane Feirer and Robert Johnson from #IGIS are helping here too, and we’ll likely be using some of the new material in IGIS workshops soon. 

Currently, I am in China, visiting former PhD student Dr Qinghua Guo and my “grandstudent” Dr Yanjun Su at their lab set in the bucolic Institute of Botany northwest of Beijing (just outside the 5th ring, for those of you in the know). It has been a blast. I came to catch up on all the excellent UAV, lidar, remote sensing, and modeling work going on in the Digital Ecosystem Lab at the Institute of Botany (part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences). These students are serious Data Scientists: they are working on key spatial problems and remote sensing data problems using ML, classification, spatio-temporal algorithms, data fusion tools. They routinely work with lidar, hyperspectral, multispectral and field data, and focus on leaf-scale to landscape-scale processes. One of the big experiments they are working on uses a new instrument, dubbed “Crop3D”. It is a huge frame installed over an ag field with a movable sensor dock. The field is about 30m x 15m, and the sensor can move to cover the entire field. Here is my summary in graphic form:

CROP3D. Very cool.

CROP3D. Very cool.

This season’s experiment focuses on mapping corn plant phenotypes using hyperspectral, RGB, and lidar data by classifying leaf-scale metrics such as leaf angle and branching angles, along with spectral indices. VERY COOL STUFF. I am eager to hear more about the results of the experiment and see what is yet to come. 

I gave a couple of talks, one on “big” (serious air quotes here) data and ecology (to the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences) and one on UAVs (to the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS). In both I highlighted all the excellent work done by students and staff in my various research and outreach groups. In the first I focused on our Lidar work in the Sierra Nevada (with Qinghua Guo, Yanjun Su, Marek Jakubowski); the VTM work and FAIR data (with Kelly Easterday); and UAV/water stress (with Kelly again plus Sean Hogan and Jacob Flanagan). In the second talk I got to gush about all the IGIS work we are doing across our “Living Laboratories” in California. We have flown ~30 missions (total 25 km2) on and around the network of research properties in California (see the panel below for some examples). I talked about the recent CNN work with Ovidiu Csillik; the BORR water stress experiment with Kelly, Sean and Jacob; the fire recovery work at Hopland with Shane Feirer and the rest of the IGIS crew; and the outreach we do like DroneCamps. I also talked about UAV Grand Challenges: Scaling, Sampling, and Synergies. Those ideas are for another post. 

IGIS UAV Missions in California

IGIS UAV Missions in California

My hosts took great care of me: Showing me the sites, making sure I tried all the regional delicacies, and indulging me in my usual blather. Below are some pics of us on our adventures, including in the bus on our way to a distant portion of the Great Wall. Walking the Wall was: 1) awesome (in the real sense of the word – it really is mind-blowing); 2) STEEP (calves were screaming at the end of the day); and 3) windy. Plus there are snakes. I was told that there are other sections of the Wall that are called “Wild Wall” which I think is extremely cool. And speaking of walls, GOT starts again this weekend. China in springtime is BURSTING with flowers. And being housed at the Institute of Botany means all of them are on show in a concentrated area. Finally, you can get all over this huge country on trains. Trains that go really fast (220 MPH), and are on time, and are comfortable! I went to Shanghai (800+ miles away) for the weekend by train! My current joke: “In China, it takes 4 hours to get from Beijing to Shanghai. In California, it takes 4 hours to get from Berkeley to Sacramento.” (Thanks Dad!).   


Off to Tokyo. But not before a final panel of pics that remind me of this trip: Technology, Art, Food, Flowers, Shopping, History. Here in China, Red = Happiness + GoodLuck, not the Cardinal.


ESRI @ GIF Open GeoDev Hacker Lab

We had a great day today exploring ESRI open tools in the GIF. ESRI is interested in incorporating more open tools into the GIS workflow. According to, this means working with:

  1. Open Standards: OGC, etc.

  2. Open Data formats: supporting open data standards, geojson, etc.

  3. Open Systems: open APIs, etc.

We had a full class of 30 participants, and two great ESRI instructors (leaders? evangelists?) John Garvois and Allan Laframboise, and we worked through a range of great online mapping (data, design, analysis, and 3D) examples in the morning, and focused on using ESRI Leaflet API in the afternoon. Here are some of the key resources out there.

Great Stuff! Thanks Allan and John

Citizen science vs. MODIS on producing maps of atmospheric dust

Measurements by thousands of citizen scientists in the Netherlands using their smartphones and the iSPEX add-on are delivering accurate data on dust particles in the atmosphere that add valuable information to professional measurements. The iSPEX team, led by Frans Snik of Leiden University, analyzed all measurements from three days in 2013 and combined them into unique maps of dust particles above the Netherlands. The results match and sometimes even exceed those of ground-based measurement networks and satellite instruments. Here is the comparison of the maps produced by citizen science versus MODIS:

iSPEX map compiled from all iSPEX measurements performed in the Netherlands on July 8, 2013, between 14:00 and 21:00. Each blue dot represents one of the 6007 measurements that were submitted on that day. At each location on the map, the 50 nearest iSPEX measurements were averaged and converted to Aerosol Optical Thickness, a measure for the total amount of atmospheric particles. This map can be compared to the AOT data from the MODIS Aqua satellite, which flew over the Netherlands at 16:12 local time. The relatively high AOT values were caused by smoke clouds from forest fires in North America, which were blown over the Netherlands at an altitude of 2-4 km. In the course of the day, winds from the North brought clearer air to the northern provinces.

Read more at:

DigitalGlobe Crowdsourcing effort to find missing Malaysian Airlines plane

Digital Globe is enlisitng a crowdsourcing effort to scan through thousands of satellite images and tag potential sitings of the Malaysian Aircraft that went missing this weekend.

The crowdsourcing platform Tomnod, was launched on Monday afternoon and recieved 60,000 page views in the first hour depolying arguably one of the most responsive and comprehensive search missions aided by crowdsourcing and satellite imagery. 

Read more about this here and here and join the effort here

Who Says Religion and Science Can't Mix? Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins

The Las Vegas Sun ran an article about researchers from Kansas State who conducted a study on mapping the "Seven Deadl Sins". Well, actually proxies for those sins. Judge for yourself if you believe the surrogate variables are indeed indicative of the "sins". No matter how you slice it, it's mapping, and it's interesting...

Ghost Maps

There are over 35 million geotagged, time-stamped photos on flickr now. That's enough to start doing some pretty interesting analyses, including this one from Crandall, et al., at Cornell (presented at the WWW 2009 conference, "Mapping the World's Photos" [PDF]).  Not only is it possible to map hot spots of world tourism, but by incorporating the time stamps to map the routes people are taking, you can make out individual streets. As suggested by the Information Aesthetics blog, you could even design popular walking tours.

Once GPS-enabled cameras represent a larger share of the market, flickr may provide data for all sorts of important analyses: tracking SOD, the migration of an endangered song bird, or estimating the "desolation" of a place: the world heat map that the Cornell group presents looks shockingly like the lights at night. The machine... it's ALIVE!!!

helpful new features from ESRI

here are some gems I learned about at CalGIS:

1. Go to ArcGIS Online Resources to quickly, easily, and freely add in terrific basemap data and high res imagery to any .mxd. If you are logged in you will have access to a lot more options.

2. Arc 9.3.1 (to be released any day now) will include a "layer packages" feature. So, if you want to send someone your file exactly as you are looking at it, you can right click on the layer and select "save as layer package", and it will zip the .shp + .lyr into a .lpk to share more easily. Also, there will be free access to Microsoft Virtual Earth within your Arc desktop.