Public Lab Wiki documentation

Grants: Seed Magazine

1 | 2 | | #112

Submitted on Jan 24, 2011, not accepted

Low resolution version of map, or in OpenLayers viewer: and high resolution at

Title of work

Oil and birds at the Chandeleur Islands, May 9 2010

Author(s) name, email address, affiliation, mailing address

Stewart Long (,, Louisiana Bucket Brigade (, Grassroots Mapping (

Copyright holder (if different from authors)

Louisiana Bucket Brigade, but the work has been released into the public domain.

Description of work

This map is one of a set of dozens of citizen-produced maps of the effects of the BP oil spill. Produced using a helium balloon, it is the highest resolution map ever produced of this site, and is the first in a series we hope to produce at this site in coming years in order to assess long-term damage. While direct aerial imaging is not typically considered an interface to a digital library, this form of presentation (full-resolution explorable digital interfaces) is the most direct way for the public to access and interpret information about the oil spill at distinct moments in time. Insofar as it invites examination and interpretation of our large and growing digital collection of aerial imaging, the act of producing maps such as these -- captured during day-long field expeditions with local volunteers and activists -- is itself an ‘interface’ for engaging with a larger body of data.

Our collection’s strength lies not only in its high resolution (up to 3 cm/px) and relevant time-of-capture, but in the participatory nature of its production and analysis. Rather than simply advocating a transparent government and industry data gathering process (one which we nonetheless support strongly), we have organized public training sessions, distributed balloon mapping kits, and developed digital tools for image processing (such as the Map Knitter at in order that the public might involve themselves as producers, not just consumers, of information. We have already begun working with academic and governmental institutions who need the kind of data we are producing, and plan to pursue legal uses as well.

In many ways we consider this a post-visualization approach; one which poses a critique of traditional design-centric techniques which largely fail to question the context and bias of data producers in favor of alluring and complex visuals. In this sense, we are submitting not only this map but its means of production as our entry to SEED’s Mapping Science collection.

References to publications in which the map appeared

The New York Times Bits Blog (, the Boston Globe’s Big Picture feature (

Links to related projects/works,,

Entries should be submitted via email to the curators of the exhibit: Katy Börner ( and the exhibit designer Michael J. Stamper ( using the email subject header “Mapping Science Entry.”