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.