OOS 22-9 - Remote sensing and anthropogenic change: Bridging the scientific and literary communities

Wednesday, August 5, 2009: 10:50 AM
San Miguel, Albuquerque Convention Center
Patricia L. Hackbarth , Www.SceneChanges.Org, New York, NY
Background/Question/Methods Landscapes in every form, along with the living communities that inhabit them, have long been celebrated and memorialized in literature, whether poetry, environmental essay, literary fiction, creation stories, or even folksong. They have served as the symbol of every human desire and every human struggle; they embody the physical and psychic space where we live most intensely. Yet in recent years, anthropogenic change has thoroughly altered some of these essential places. Remote sensing offers a unique opportunity to take a look at our vanishing literary landscapes. While photographs document changes in local places on a personal level, these changes have more extensive impacts on their surrounding communities. Remote sensing can show us ecological process, scope, and context in a way that photographs cannot, and by bringing the science to the reader, may bring additional impact. Thoreau would scarcely recognize Walden Pond, whose plant communities are undergoing dramatic change, thanks to the earlier arrival of spring. Poetry, folksong, and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain celebrate an Appalachian landscape of an earlier time, but today that landscape features blasted stumps of mountains, debris-choked streambeds, and disrupted fish and wildlife communities, due to mountaintop removal coal mining. Australia's bush fires have devoured the land of aboriginal creation stories, along with entire populations of endangered species, thanks to prolonged climate-change-induced drought. Fauna from Faulkner's bear to Peter Matthiessen's snow leopards and sea turtles find their habitat stressed, fragmented, and warmed.

Results/Conclusions Remote sensing's various wavelengths and analytical tools demonstrate a broad range of land cover conditions. Visible light bands show the extent of shrunken snowfields and enable the shock of the flat, sterile landscape of a dozen leveled mountains. Infrared shows stressed and dying vegetation, often some distance from the cause. Thermal bands show changes in sea surface temperature. Suburban sprawl, development, and habitat fragmentation show up on all bands. Before and after images, and NDVI change detection maps, show the extent of the change. The massive scope of the work that must be done to achieve sustainability will require extraordinary cooperation from supportive communities. The community of readers of literature is potentially a great ally in this work, and this project is intended to engage them with an ever greater urgency.

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Banner photo by Flickr user greg westfall.