Use of Digital Image Technology to ‘Clearly’ Depict Global Change

Monday, 15 December 2014
Bruce Franklin Molnia, US Geological Survey, National Civil Applications, Reston, VA, United States and Chelsea L Carbo, US Geological Survey, Eastern Geographic Science Center, Reston, VA, United States
Earth is dynamic and beautiful. Understanding why, when, how, and how fast its surface changes yields information and serves as a source of inspiration. The artistic use of geoscience information can inform the public about what is happening to their planet in a non-confrontational and apolitical way. While individual images may clearly depict a landscape, photographic comparisons are necessary to clearly capture and display annual, decadal, or century-scale impacts of climate and environmental change on Earth’s landscapes. After years of effort to artistically communicate geoscience concepts with unenhanced individual photographs or pairs of images, the authors have partnered to maximize this process by using digital image enhancement technology. This is done, not to manipulate the inherent artistic content or information content of the photographs, but to insure that the comparative photo pairs produced are geometrically correct and unambiguous.

For comparative photography, information-rich historical photographs are selected from archives, websites, and other sources. After determining the geographic location from which the historical photograph was made, the original site is identified and eventually revisited. There, the historical photos field of view is again photographed, ideally from the original location. From nearly 250 locations revisited, about 175 pairs have been produced.

Every effort is made to reoccupy the original historical site. However, vegetation growth, visibility reduction, and co-seismic level change may make this impossible. Also, inherent differences in lens optics, camera construction, and image format may result in differences in the geometry of the new photograph when compared to the old. Upon selection, historical photos are cleaned, contrast stretched, brightness adjusted, and sharpened to maximize site identification and information extraction.

To facilitate matching historical and new images, digital files of each are overlain in an image enhancement program. The new image is resized to match the historical photo and then, using a pixel warping tool, portions of the new image are reconfigured and matched to historical pixels to create a perfect match. Through the use of digital image technology we are able to ‘clearly’ convey the realities of our changing planet.