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Exploring New Stormwater Monitoring Methods

by stevie | 2 months ago | 0 | 4

Here in New Orleans, we've been involved in the larger conversation with the Public Lab community about water quality monitoring. Over the past few years we've hosted builds, and discussions, we've explored water monitoring methods, and worked out in the field. One thing we started to notice was that the tools and monitoring methods themselves were in the driver's seat on a lot of these activities. We wanted to flip our attention, and refocus on the local issue to driving our exploration. So in March, we along with I See Change, Grounwork New Orleans and Water Works started a new workshop series and looked explicitly to our backyard, and to our own unique questions, to drive our exploration forward. We also want to thank New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, Ripple Effect, and Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans for their support of the workshop series.

Our local context

In New Orleans, we're constantly dealing with issues of street flooding. The infrastructure of the city is taxed with pumping out all the rain that falls on it. Otherwise, it stays standing in our streets. Read more about our previous water workshops in New Orleans and about the stormwater issue here

In this series we started by picking locations of stormwater interest and thinking specifically about those locations. Within three blocks of our workshop location, we found three site of diverse stormwater interest. The first site was Groundwork's Earth Lab which includes a bioswale and groundwater storage tank that captures stormwater off of nearby warehouse sized roofs. The second site was a street that has an incoming green development project with proposed construction beginning in September to deal specifically with stormwater issues. The third site was a flooding hot-spot just outside an elementary school.

The Stormwater Series

The series we ran included six events in total, with a month of monitoring in the middle. Below is a summary of each workshop with links to larger writeups about them.

The first workshop: An Introduction to Stormwater

In the first event we got together with the goals of both learning about stormwater, and identifying the questions we wanted to to carry through the series. We spent time discussing what we know about stormwater on a personal level, and we heard from our friends at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board about the stormwater system in the city.

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After some learning, we went outside and did a visual survey of each of the sites.

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For a final activity, we went back inside with all the knowledge we acquired and the site surveys in mind, and we brainstormed all the different questions we had about stormwater at the sites. Through a process of culling out what we deemed as the most important and the most achievable scientific questions, (we used this post to help us with this activity), we decide on the research questions we wanted to take forward. Those were:

  • How long does water stay standing in an area?
  • How much rain does it take to flood?

This was closely followed by: How can we tell what contaminants are in the stormwater?

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The second workshop: Community Mapping

Tried and true, our second workshop was about capturing the bigger picture of what was going on on the ground at our project sites. We used the Public Lab balloon and poles mapping techniques for this, as well as ground photos to gather a better understanding of our project sites.

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The third workshop: Designing a Stormwater Study

In workshop three, we annotated our maps from the second workshop with information and photos from around our sites. This helped us ground our knowledge of the sites. We then broke into groups and brainstormed all the resources, tools, and activities we could think of to help us answer our two research questions for each site. Those were "How long does water stay standing in an area?" and "How much rain does it take to flood?"

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We checked out methods people had used on Public Lab, and compiled all of our ideas for how to answer our questions on one big sheet of paper. Then we talked about the list together and picked the best and simplest combination that would help us get to the bottom of our research questions for each site. With our ideas in place, we pulled out what we would need to do, and how we wanted to do it so that in our next workshop, we had the resources and ability to set up our study.

The fourth workshop: Implementing a Stormwater Study

One of the things that came out of the last workshop was our interest in using different resource to see how we could best get to the bottom of our questions rather than picking one method for all three sites. We had gauge boards, rain gauges, and trail cameras to learn about and put up. We had site surveys to create, a photo repositories to build out and I See Change accounts to make! This workshop was all about getting us ready to start monitoring.

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The fifth workshop: A dry run on monitoring and our month of data

The fifth workshop was actually added on last minute. We realized that because we were interested in different methods for monitoring the sites, we needed to be on the same page about how to get this done. In this workshop, we did a dry run of data collection, and over the course of the three weeks to follow, that's what we did every week day.

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The sixth workshop: Lessons Learned and Next Steps

In this last workshop, we celebrated with a Pizza Party. There was so much we had learned about monitoring, our questions, the sites, and about how to walk through this process from beginning to end. Going through all the data we had gathered, we spent time talking about what worked, and what was hard. Reflecting on the original research questions, it really felt like methods we developed help us answer the questions we asked different ways. With some tweaks, and some new ideas we have a few methods for monitoring stormwater built out. Finally, we explored new ideas and next steps. We'd be excited to continue on any of them given the opportunity.

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This workshop series was great. It embodied our local issues and questions, utilized the resources of the broader Public Lab community and beyond, and emphasised exploration, learning, and sharing. I was so encouraged by everything we pulled together, everything we were able to test out, and all the people who came to the table.

Now, thanks to the work of everyone on this series, we have a wealth of knowledge to add about methods for monitoring stormwater. In true Public Lab form, our challenge back out to you is two fold. First, engage in our work: check out our activities and research notes, give us feedback and post questions for us to move forward with. Second, help us all learn more about what monitoring and exploration looks like in your backyard. We'd like to explore your new methods and ideas too.

Partners in this project include:

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Support for this series comes from Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans and Ripple Effect

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Stories of balloon and kite mapping in education

by warren | 3 months ago | 0 | 1

As part of our series on all the amazing work that's been done with kite and balloon mapping over the years -- work that's led to our new Mini Balloon and Kite kits, today we'd like to highlight a number of educational projects from our community and partners over the years.

Pictured above: Launching a Mini Kite Kit at Parts & Crafts' Girls Invention Week

Parts & Crafts

To start with, this morning we ran an activity with Parts & Crafts in Somerville, Massachusetts, who have been a great partner over the years. Parts & Crafts is a makerspace for kids and their friends, and an alternative school program and DIY-centric camp. They've done a lot of Public Lab projects since the very start, and this week was Girls Invention Week -- so we took the Mini Kite Kite out for a spin with some amazing girl inventors!

We've kite-mapped with Parts & Crafts before, too -- read more about their work at:

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Pictured: balloons on Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, NY -- image CC-BY-SA Nicholas Johnson

Public Mapping Mission - Newtown Creek

The Public Mapping Mission was a combination online/offline course and a collaboration between Public Lab, GovLab Academy, the Center for Urban Science and Progress and the MIT Media Lab. The second part of the course was a public event in which participants mapped Newtown Creek on December 7th. This is their story...

After a rainy and cold Friday night, the forecast for Saturday afternoon was looking much better. High of 41ºF with 10-15mph winds from the west, and indeed it was a clear, cold and windy day. Our group of dedicated mappers met at Newtown Creek at the Plank Road site in the afternoon. We were carrying two kites, two Public Lab balloon kits, an 80cf tank of helium and other miscellaneous supplies.

Shortly after our arrival on foot, an armada of canoes from the North Brooklyn Boating Club arrived, reinforcing our efforts and providing naval support...

Read more about their work at:

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Students building Soda Bottle Rigs for their cameras - photo CC-BY-SA Meghan Jain

A Balloon Mapping Curriculum in Chicago

In 2014, Meghan Jain spent about a month creating a Balloon Mapping Curriculum, which you can download from her post:

She and Benjamin Sugar worked at Civic Lab in Chicago with 12-15 students to build rigs and fly cameras using the Balloon Mapping Kit. The curriculum notes that:

When members of a community are faced with a problem, generally they need evidence. Most people rely on labs to produce these studies. Through using balloons and kites to produces areal image data, citizens can increase the amount of power they have. Using a balloon is inexpensive and accessible, which helps members of the community engage in their civic communities. The more they know, they more they can do.

Read more about their work at:

Send us your stories!

We're looking for more stories -- and great images -- to highlight, so please tweet out a picture and tell your story -- and mention @PublicLab!

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Challenges, questions and problem-solving together: choosing cameras for Mini Balloon and Kite Kits

by warren | 3 months ago | 0 | 0

Thanks for a terrific first week of our Kickstarter! 47% in our first seven days is awesome -- thanks for your support.

We often talk about how Public Lab is dedicated to collaborative work, and we've mentioned that the new Mini Balloon and Kite Kits are "prototyping kits" -- but we want to get the ball rolling on what exactly we're hoping to collaboratively prototype.

So we'll be announcing "challenges" or "unknowns" that we're inviting folks to chip in their thoughts on -- and if you're already a mapper, to try out yourself.

We'd also love it if people would post their questions, ideas, and challenges, so we can collect them and help get this collaboration going. That's how Public Lab works -- and I wanted to mention that we've been doing this in person as well; at the Appalachia Barnraising (read more about these Public Lab events here) this past weekend, we spent a morning testing out these new kits in Morgantown, West Virginia (lead image).

Online, we've already begun collecting basic information about the kits at these pages on the Public Lab site:

Each has a "Questions" area where you can post your questions, and we've started things off with a few already.

First challenge: choosing cameras!

For today, we want to break the ice with a discussion of weight -- these balloons can lift over 60 grams each, which means that on a perfectly calm day, you can lift one of these GoPro alternatives. But what are the best options?

Have you tried these cameras out? Know of something cheaper, lighter, or better resolution? Of course we've done some preliminary testing, but we're also on the lookout for more lightweight cameras. Tell us what you know!image description

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Balloon and Kite Mapping Stories, Part 1

by warren | 3 months ago | 0 | 1

This is a series on #balloon-mapping, as part of our month-long Kickstarter campaign to launch Mini Balloon and Kite Kits:

Wow, we'd first like to thank everyone for our first 2 days -- it's very exciting to be at 33% of our goal so early in the campaign! Special thanks to everyone who's helped with outreach -- as a community project, we depend on your help.

Many people have posted #balloonselfies, which is a fun way to show support, as well as a great way to help spread the word about the amazing work our community has done with balloons and kites over the past 7 years.

In that vein, we're going to be highlighting the stories and work of dozens of people using Public Lab tools around the world as the campaign progresses.

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Flood Mapping in Jakarta

Jakarta is flooding and it happens every year.

Willie Shubert (@Willie) works with a network of environmental journalists and they make maps:

We sourced flooding data from local disaster response agency. The flood looks like this.

So we knew where to go and headed out with a kite and a gopro hero 3 to try and make a map. We ended up with some cool pictures.

Read more at:

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All the Shingle Ladies

This group of students at the Thacher School in California used aerial mapping to look at roof conditions:

There's no place like home right? If that's the case, then it's important to make sure that our homes are working and functioning properly; which is why we wanted to use aerial mapping techniques to find out if there was something wrong with the rooftops of the dorms at the Thacher School. After living at Thacher for three years, we are all aware of general information regarding each dorm, and we have lived in three out of the six dorms. Before starting this experiment, we suspected that the older dorms were potentially more vulnerable to water leakage and/or other complications.

Read more about Clare, Helena, Pria and Zoe's AP environmental science project here:

Community stormwater research

This group in New Orleans (also lead image, both by @stevie) made maps of areas affected by stormwater runoff, as part of an ongoing series of community workshops on stormwater. image description

The goal of this event was to both learn about mapping and also capture aerial and ground survey images of the study sites. We will use these in the next workshop where we'll be working on a study design for our questions. We started the event by revisiting the research questions from the first workshop. Those are:

1. How long does water stay standing in an area?

2. How much rain does it take to flood?

Read more about their work at:

Send us your stories!

We're looking for more stories -- and great images -- to highlight, so please tweet out a picture and tell your story -- and mention @PublicLab!

Read more »

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A New Balloon and Kite Mapping campaign: Kickstarter Gold and Beyond!

by bronwen | 3 months ago | 0 | 9

We've just launched a new kite and balloon mapping project as a part of Kickstarter Gold, a new initiative designed to help highlight the evolution of initiatives that have received funding in the past.

We're obviously very excited to have the chance to share the work that Public Lab community members have done over the years: developing tools and methodologies for community-led research, and creating a robust and supportive environment for new kinds of investigation, information access, and advocacy.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be getting the word out about our existing balloon and kite kits that you all have done so much with, as well as a few new "prototyping" versions, using smaller kites and balloons. We're looking forward to drawing some attention to a set of tools we're really proud of, and are excited about connecting to a large audience about the ways that community driven science can happen where it's needed.

Please help us get the word out -- and in the coming days, we'll be following up to ask for more input as well, as we'd love to highlight all your amazing work and balloon-mapping stories! Take a look at our press release here, and visit our campaign at the link below.

Thank you, as always for your support!

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Kite Aerial Mapping for Golden Trout Camp: Exploring Techniques for Mapping in Remote Locations

by lydia123 | 4 months ago | 2 | 2

Authors: Lydia, Conor, Jane Link that helped us with our project: Introduction Our group set out to find a viable way to map areas of Golden Trout to assess grazing for the donkeys, surface water flow, foot trails, and other necessary information. Because Golden Trout Camp (henceforth GTC) is around an eight hour drive from Ojai, we were unable to put these methods to practice, so our goal was to create a simulation for something to be replicated there. This will help GTC, an 80 acre area in the Sierras with dense sections of forests, over 100 ft. tall trees, large elevation changes, and large meadows/clearings, by providing a simple and low cost DIY method to take detailed aerial images to address conditions in remote locations such as Golden Trout Camp. Additionally, this method is easily replicated to find changes over time, either short or long term. We had the ability to see the current map of GTC, which provided us with some information about the area as well as different difficulties that could arise. From this, we were able to find similarities between GTC and where we were flying our kite. This allowed us to get an accurate simulation of what it would be like at GTC. Aerial mapping is a good way to contribute to this because up-to-date images and maps are vital to the function of GTC. It would allow up-to-date images of different foot trails, grazing areas, wildlife, plants, and surface water, which would help day-to-day functions at the camp.

Methods Equipment G-Sky Hi Sky Delta 7 x 3.5 ft. kite (note: significant wind necessary to keep kite airborne) Canon PowerShot A490 camera and memory card Top of plastic juice container (stabilizing contraption) Laptop (to load photos onto) String Rock (to hold down shutter) Rubber bands Gathering data Procedure Find open location and judge wind strength Set up kite Turn on camera Put camera in the rubber band contraption (4 rubber bands tied together, as seen in image below) Secure small rock above the shutter so that the camera will continuously take photos Take camera with rubber bands attached and place it in container, with the lens facing downwards Stretching the rubber bands, secure the camera in its container by attaching the string to the outside of the container.

Attaching the camera Attach the container, with the secured camera, to the kite string hanging approximately 10 ft. below the actual kite. (We originally attempted to attach the camera directly to the kite, however this caused the kite to be weighed down.) Have one person hold onto the kite giving around 30 ft. of slack.

Preparing to launch the kite Another person, holding the string, walks backwards to help launch the kite When the string is taut, the person holding the kite releases it, and the person with the string starts to run backwards, in order for the kite to gain elevation. However, if there is a lack of wind, use an ATV or other motorized vehicle in order to pick up speed and allow the kite to gain elevation.

Conor beginning his drive around the Gymkhana Field Slowly let the string out to raise the kite to the desired height Using the wind, maneuver the kite, to find the best location for taking your photos

Kite visible very high over the ridge If possible, use different kite flying maneuvers in order to stabilize the kite and camera. This will lead to clearer and more useful images.. After desired amount of time (we suggest 20-30 minutes), slowly reel in your kite looking out for any potential obstacles When the kite reaches the ground, remove rock, turn off camera, and download photos on to computer.

We were able to gather data through uploading the hundreds of images from the camera’s memory card onto a laptop and looking through them. Although many of the images were not helpful (because they were taken during the setup, were blurry, etc.) a large amount of them were very clear and useful. Because of the height that the kite reached, we were able to gather photos of a wide area that included fields, trees, and roads.

Area that we were mapping for the simulation

Analysis With the photos that we took, we determined some of the beneficial aspects of kite mapping, as well as some of its limitations. We found that kite mapping is ideal for places that are hard to access, as helium is unnecessary, as well as for taking pictures of large areas with many obstacles. In areas with dense forests, beginning the flight of either a kite or balloon can be extremely difficult and dangerous to the equipment. With a kite, however, you can find an area to launch, then using wind direction, maneuver the kite above the area that you initially wanted to launch (densely forested areas, etc.). Despite these benefits, kite mapping can be problematic when there is a lack of wind, lack of an open location to launch the kite, or too much wind, where you will not be able to stabilize your kite and camera, resulting in bad photos. Kite mapping, when used correctly, can be a great solution to problems that may come from normal aerial mapping, using a balloon and helium.

Results What worked and what didn’t? Which Kite To Use Through multiple test runs, we were able to determine which kite to use depending on wind conditions. When there was not much wind, the large kite is the the better one to use, as it will be easier to keep in the air. However, when the wind is severe, the smaller kite better stabilized the camera, resulting in clearer photos. How To Counteract Wind Problems One of the largest and most obvious problems that comes with aerial mapping using a kite is the lack of wind. The larger the kite, the easier it is to get it in the air as well as stabilize to get good images. Why Kite Mapping is Useful in the Backcountry One reason that aerial mapping is ideal for Golden Trout Camp is that by using the direction that the wind is traveling, you can angle your kite to fly above dense sections of trees, where launching either a balloon or kite would be very difficult. Problems with Elevation Change One potential problem with using aerial mapping in a place like Golden Trout is that it is difficult to see the changes in elevation. In our test location, the Gymkhana Field, we found it difficult to notice the elevation change from the field to the top of the hill. We estimate that the difference in elevation is approximately 120 ft. A simple solution to this problem is to lower your kite. However, at Golden Trout the Lodgepole Pine Trees make it impossible to lower your kite far enough. That being said, a steep elevation change is noticeable on the camera, which should be sufficient enough to create a grazing plan. Generally speaking, the maneuverability of the kite should be large enough to get images of most of the 80 acres. These images are extremely clear and will allow you to see the riparian corridors, perimeters, and common paths easily, while the sheer elevation makes it difficult to identify plant species. One other problem with kite mapping is that it can make it difficult to combine the photos you receive into a map. Because of the wind, the kite will be moving fairly consistently, giving you many shots from different angles and locations making it difficult to create a map.
What did you learn? Throughout this experiment, the lens of kite mapping prompted many new experiences and lessons, as we had never done anything like it. We were able to figure out what the best kite is to use, how to fully take advantage of the uniqueness of kites, the strengths and limitations of kite mapping, as well as how to best apply these ideas in obscure locations, that we are not able to travel to. Sample photos

Recommendations Equipment (Link to aerial mapping kit used: ) For this project, the necessary pieces of equipment are a large kite, long string for the kite, a camera with the ability to take constant photos or something that aids that, and a plastic holder for the camera (see materials list for comprehensive version). We recommend observing how utilizing the different tails of the kites affect their flights (we did not have the time to complete these observations). Replications over time In order to replicate this, all that would be necessary is good kite-flying conditions. If this is achievable, replication is easy. In order to get the best results, it is best to get the kite very high so the camera covers a larger area. We had hoped to map other areas as well, such as Thacher Creek, the Cow arena, and possibly an athletic field such as the New Field or Upper Field. We were unable to map these areas because of limited time, but we were able to get enough information from the flight we did because of the mount of high quality photos we got. Future directions (improvements or additions to the methods, additional studies this makes you think of) After our first flight, we found that tying the camera lower on the line resulted in a more successful flight. When we did this, we got the kite over 600 feet in the air and were able to get many good and clear photos of areas we wouldn’t be able to photograph otherwise. We also found that using different

Reflections Through this project, we learned that the nature of kite mapping requires a lot of trial and error, and sometimes is not feasible due to conditions outside of our control. We learned how to overcome these obstacles by thinking outside of the box and employing other methods to capture our photos. Because of this hard work, we were able to attain images that aided us in our goal of providing Mr. Spaulding with information helpful to using a kite to establish a viable grazing plan and locate various ecological features of the land (riparian corridors, common paths, and perimeters) in a location that poses some difficulties, GTC.

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