Now you can help NASA improve its global land cover maps

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Did you know, the smartphone in your pocket is your key to becoming a contributing mapmaker at NASA? The space agency’s newly-launched ‘Adopt a Pixel’ program is inviting all citizen-scientists to help NASA improve its global land cover maps. The initiative is a part of NASA’s citizen science program called GLOBE Observer which was launched in 2016.

In ‘Adopt a Pixel’ all you need to do is photograph the landscape around you, up to a distance of 50-meters in each direction, and submit the pictures to the GLOBE Observer app (available on both iOS and Android). You can even go a step further by recording your observations about the land cover (what do you see – trees, grass, etc.?) and validate them against the satellite data.

The basic aim of ‘Adopt a Pixel’ is to provide the science community with details of the landscape that are too small for NASA’s land-mapping satellites to see. Now, to be clear, there are some parts of the world for which high spatial resolution maps are available – but the same cannot be said for every place on Earth.

According to Peder Nelson, a land cover scientist at Oregon State University, “Even though land cover is familiar to everyone on the planet, the most detailed satellite-based maps of global land cover are still on the order of hundreds of meters per pixel. That means that a park in a city may be too small to show up on the global map.”

On its own, that may not seem like much, but cumulatively, this issue can lead to a lot of inconsistencies in global maps. And these inconsistencies only add on to a community’s vulnerability to disasters like fire, floods or landslides. Scientists need to have a thorough understanding of the land cover of a region to see how it can influence the way water flows or carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere. And this is what makes ‘Adopt a Pixel’ a great initiative.

As NASA’s 60th anniversary approaches, the agency has even organized a fun challenge to kickstart the data collection for ‘Adopt a Pixel’. Map as much land as you possibly can between Sept 22 and Oct 1, 2018. If you are among the top 10 citizen-scientists who map the most land, NASA will give you a shout-out on its social media handles along with a certificate of appreciation from GLOBE Observer. Get started here.

Ishveena is a geospatial enthusiast and a veteran of creating and managing compelling digital content for organizations and individuals. When she is not making magic at her desk, you are likely to find her exploring nature, eating her way through life, or binge-watching funny animal videos.