Anyone can make an accurate, high-quality map now! - Remap is revolutionizing the way people use remote-sensing for mapmaking purposes.
Most aspects of our lives are being reshaped by the huge quantities of digital data are produced and shared nowadays, and never before has it been so central to the future of biodiversity and human well-being on Earth. In particular data generated and reported in real and near-real time, produced passively through digital services, and collected by an array of physical sensors—from weather sensors to traffic cameras, satellites and GPS. It is this sort of information (collected regularly though Landsat satellites by NASA and the US Geological Survey since the 1970s) which allowed for the development of remote-sensing software and, most recently, the creation of innovative remote-sensing tools like REMAP— an online application that allows anyone with little background in remote sensing to quickly develop high-quality land-cover maps of ecosystems for any location on Earth.
The emergence of REMAP is particularly relevant in regards to ecosystem monitoring and assessment, and therefore to the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. Before the tool was developed by RLE team members Dr. Murray, Professor David Keith and Professor Richard Lucas at UNSW, only specialists with advanced skills in data analysis could develop ecosystem maps with the level of accuracy required by RLE assessments -- and even then it took months to analyze the needed amount of remote sensing data. Now, thanks to the user-friendly app, analyzing remote sensing data for map making purposes can take minutes and anyone with minimum training (from national park rangers, ecologists and citizen scientists, to students, farmers, small-scale organisations and governments lacking in IT power) can use it for conservation and other purposes. While the terms and conditions of Google Earth Engine mean that the platform can’t be used for “sustained commercial purposes”, Murray has said Remap could still be used to assess environmental impacts of different operations or whether land remediation efforts are proving successful.
“People all around the world are going to be able to make really high-quality maps with the right data and identify places that are changing – for the worse or for the better.” Dr Murray, Centre for Ecosystem Science-UNSW.
The app features built-in methods to calculate the spatial metrics required by the RLE (Calculates AOO and EOO - Criterion B and the reduction in geographic distribution - Criterion A) and uses cutting-edge machine learning methods to develop a map. The program allows anyone to map whatever they want to without needing to rely on existing datasets; users only have to train REMAP to classify specific ecosystem types by either identifying pixels of different ecosystems and any type of land cover or water distribution within a study area, or by uploading their own field data. From that little bit of data, REMAP can apply that information to recognise ecosystems in a selected area and then returns highly accurate results that let users know the final extent of the ecosystem and how much it has changed over time (RLE Criterion A). It’s even possible to tailor the program to detect ecosystem changes and develop time-series maps intended for witnessing things such as how the boundaries of forests shrink over the decades due to deforestation. Once finished, maps can be analyzed within REMAP or downloaded to the user’s computer.
Powered by Google Earth and having empowered people to map just how much the ecosystems around them have been changing by eliminating most of the technical challenges of compiling and analysing raw satellite images, REMAP’s popularity has done nothing but increase with time. The team recently published their first scientific paper about the app in Methods in Ecology and Evolution and the Remap is already being used internationally by the Wildlife Conservation Society to map Myanmar’s ecosystems (a country host to a rich biodiversity unique to south-east Asia but with little data to guide conservation efforts). More than 7000 people from 153 countries have used the online application since it was made available 6 months ago.
“We are at an exciting time on earth where we really have the computing power to do this. This application makes the world’s best practice remote sensing method accessible to everyone,” says Dr Murray.
Written by: Clara Gómez
Style and format: Lila García and Clara Gómez
Provita Aug 08, 2018