Google Street View Could Fight Invasive Species
Researchers used Google Street Views to track caterpillar nests from the pine processionary moth; here, different examples of infested trees located along streets in the region of Orleans, France.
July 23, 2012 --
This week Google debuted a new set of panoramic images from the South Pole. Taken in partnership with on-site researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Polar Geospatial Center, these interactive views shed light on remote locations such as Ernest Shackleton’s early shelter and the Adélie penguin rookery. The images were captured using off-the-shelf equipment that included a digital SLR camera with a fisheye lens, said Alex Starns, a Google technical program manager for Street View whose work covers operations in Asia Pacific and Antarctica. Brad Harried, a researcher with the Polar Geospatial Center, took the latest photos. “Brad would often carry extra batteries in his pocket and use a chemical hand warmer to keep them from freezing,” Starns said. “It’s a little challenging to operate the camera wearing thick winter clothes and mittens.” Explore the frigid Antarctic landscape in this slide show of high-resolution images.
The South Pole Telescope building shown here contains an enormous scientific instrument that took more than 30 engineers and scientists to construct. “The South Pole Station is actually at a really high altitude,” Starns said. Located 1.7 miles above sea level, the telescope is used by a team of scientists seeking to answer crucial questions such as “How old is the universe?” Since the South Pole has such clear atmosphere, it’s an ideal location for observing the thermal radiation that fills our universe. Starns hopes that Street View users who interact with the new images from Antarctica will be excited to learn more about the continent. He also wants them to have a greater appreciation for the explorers of 100 years ago and modern researchers, he said. Particularly the challenges inherent in a place NASA scientists used to prepare the landers for conditions on Mars. ANALYSIS: 100 Years Ago Today: Scott Reaches South Pole
Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton survived what seemed like certain death. His first attempt to reach the South Pole in 1901 nearly killed him. In 1908 he returned, getting even closer to the South Pole. Although Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen got there first in 1911, Shackleton was still determined. His ship Endurance would get trapped in the ice, forcing the crew on an epic adventure to safety. New images show the entire interior of Shackleton’s 1908 hut at Cape Royds. “Having this immersive imagery of the supply depot they built really reinforces the sense of just how incredible that journey was,” Starns said. Reading materials remain on the beds, tossed aside as if their owners will be back momentarily. And yet the objects inside hut have stayed in place for more than a century. “His
was unique because they had some early photographic equipment on board,” Starns said of Shackleton. “In the hut you can still see some of the photographic chemicals that they used to develop their film.” Photographer Frank Hurley’s images from the Endurance expedition would become famous. HOWSTUFFWORKS: Can You Vacation in Antarctica?
A 50-foot-long wooden cabin was built in 1911 at Cape Evans on Ross Island to house several dozen men. British explorer Robert Falcon Scott used this building as a base for his Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, but he and his team ultimately reached the pole weeks after Amundsen. Scott and the four other men in his party died in the frozen wilderness while attempting to return. A letter found with his body read, "Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman." Although the cabin has remained largely unchanged since Shackleton locked it up in 1917, scientists have to regularly keep it from being swallowed by ice and snow. "You look at the food and the equipment that they brought and imagine how isolating and how lonely it must have been down there," Starns said, adding that he couldn’t imagine spending years eating tea biscuits and gravy. "It’s amazing to me that not only did these men do this, but many of them volunteered for it." NEWS: Two Aussies Reach South Pole Unaided
Back in 2010, Google first unveiled Street View images taken from Half Moon Island on the northern edge of the Antarctic Peninsula. Visitors from cruise ships that stopped there helped take the panoramic photos at the time, Starns said. Instead of a human, the Street View icon turned into a little penguin. The Adélie penguins at a remote rookery on Cape Royds aren’t accustomed to humans taking their pictures, but they seem more focused on soaking up the summer sun. From here the waters of McMurdo Sound are visible. Adélie penguins use the sun to navigate from land to the sea, according to scientific data from the Polar Conservation Organization. Unlike the humans in Google’s shots, none of the penguins have blurred faces to protect their identities. “If we get any blurring requests from them, we’ll be sure to tend to them,” Starns joked. ANALYSIS: Paralyzed Athlete Sit-Skis to the South Pole
Flags from the nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty encircle the Ceremonial South Pole. In 1959 the original treaty among 12 nations included provisions stating that Antarctica would only be used for peaceful purposes and ensuring continued scientific research there. Since then, the list of signatories has grown to 50. Besides flags, the Ceremonial South Pole is marked by a pedestal with a reflective globe on top. In the background stands the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, an American scientific facility. When the Google panoramic images were shot on the polar plateau, the conditions weren’t just windy -- the temperature was negative 60 degrees F. The ice that the station is built on moves annually so the geographic South Pole location is in a different position every year, Starns said. "The ceremonial pole always stays in the same place." VIDEO: Frozen Planet: Journey to the South Pole
Google's online street views could help scientists track and fight invasive species over the Internet, researchers say.
Mapping where species are in the world is key to monitoring native and invasive organisms. However, collecting this data can be quite an expensive and time-consuming task.
To help tackle this problem, scientists investigated Google Street View, through which Google supplies panoramic views from the streets of hundreds of cities across the world. Recently, Google Street View has offered vistas of many places off the beaten track as well, such as Antarctica, the Galapagos, the Amazon, Mount Everest's base camp and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. (7 Amazing Places to Visit with Google Street View)
Researchers focused on the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa), whose caterpillar is one of the most destructive animals targeting pines and cedars in southern Europe, Central Asia and North Africa, devouring the foliage of these trees. These social caterpillars spin large communal white silk nests, which are highly visible, making them potential targets of surveys via Google Street View.
"At the beginning of the work, I had the feeling that we were exploring a very unusual way of working — at least one I had never even imagined," said researcher Jean-Pierre Rossi, an ecologist at France's National Institute for Agronomic Research.
The scientists concentrated on a region about 18,000 square miles (47,000 square kilometers) large in France that was recently colonized by the caterpillars. They further divided this area into blocks about 100 square miles (250 square km) in size.
The researchers analyzed data regarding the presence or absence of caterpillar nests collected in these blocks through either direct observation in the field or Google Street View. They found Google Street View was 96 percent as accurate as field data.
However, when the scientists investigated a smaller region only about 185 square miles (484 square km) large divided into blocks 1.5 square miles (4 square km) in size, they found Google Street View matched field data by only 46 percent. The researchers note that smaller regions are more likely to have fewer roads covered by Google Street View, and thus less chance to properly spot these caterpillar nests. This effect may be less of a problem in the future as Google Street View's coverage expands.
The researchers note that not all species are ideal for survey via Google Street View, but many could be, such as common tree problems whose symptoms are identifiable from the road, including the horse chestnut leaf miner or ash dieback fungus.
"The data collected by using Google Street View may be useful in monitoring diseases or invasive organism expansion," Rossi told LiveScience.
In January, a different team of scientists found Google Street View could also find potential nesting sites in northern Spain for the globally endangered Egyptian vulture. Altogether, these findings suggest Google Street View could help scientists monitor both endangered and invasive species.
The scientists detailed their findings online Oct. 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.
Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.
In Photos: Underwater Google Street View
Gallery: The 10 Strangest Places on Earth
Images: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth
Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.