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2014 Hynes Public Lecture: Envisioning rivers in the Google Earth Era

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Published on Nov 16, 2014

Dr. Christian Torgersen (USGS)

Internet maps, global positioning systems (GPS), and satellite imagery have transformed our access to spatial data and provide unlimited opportunities to ‘see’ rivers in new ways. Rivers are dynamic systems that have always been difficult to visualize, but the fundamental change in society from spatial-data ‘limited’ to ‘inundated’ is changing our perception and understanding of rivers. The ways we ‘see’ rivers through remotely sensed imagery and vast networks of in situ sensors are rapidly improving, but this information for rivers is still not as accessible as maps, satellite imagery, and traffic data in Google Earth and Google Maps. We need to be able to use tools like these to show how rivers change over time, in three dimensions, across a whole spectrum of physical and biological features (e.g., water quality, quantity, and organisms). Given the importance of rivers and the stresses they are currently under, this Google Earth Era provides a unique opportunity to combine a wealth of information across scientific disciplines (e.g., computer science, mathematics, geography, and ecology) to increase public awareness and to address urgent needs to manage and conserve rivers in a changing world. In this presentation, I provide examples of how we might better use the technology that is so much a part of modern society to visualize the full complexity of rivers. I also highlight the need to incorporate the Google Earth Era in how we study and educate future generations in the ecology of running waters.

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