This screenshot shows where NOAA's Alaska ShoreZone project starts filming and taking still photos - on the very edge of Southeast Alaska.
This image, courtesy of NOAA, shows the first still image of the ShoreZone project on the loop in Southeast Alaska.
Story last updated at 10/31/2012 - 2:28 pm
Frame by frame you can fly the Alaska Coastline from the comfort of your own computer. What's even more amazing is not only the raw beauty of the more than 6,640 miles of coast, is the detail the Alaska ShoreZone project can show with the ecosystem of the coastline.
While the entire coastline isn't completely mapped, Southeast and a bit further north is.
Your first step to check this out should be to head to http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/shorezone/
This is where you will find not only the video and photographs taken thus far of the coastline, but also handy tutorials and supporting documentation for what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is doing with it.
Mandy Lindeberg, with Auke Bay Laboratories, has been working on research projects with the program for several years.
"It was based on a need for oil spill response and was developed with that in mind, pre and post spill," Lindeberg said. "Also for the imagery part, you can look and see 'am I going to be able to get clean up crews to a beach? What kinds of substrate are there? Is the oil going to stick? What's the most important shoreline to protect from oil?' Habitat mapping is to know how much of those types of habitats you have in an area. Then it kind of just expanded from there. It used to just be for responders."
Then, the idea was to put it all online so more people could access it and make use of it - and so far it's really taken off.
Lindeberg said NOAA is using it in many ways because it's such a versatile project with many partners making it possible.
"NOAA is also response, but we're also looking at it for coastal fish habitat, marine debris surveys, tsunami debris issues," Lindeberg said. "So a lot of things we didn't even think about, it's being used for. We have imagery before the tsunami, if we do get debris coming in, we'll get imagery of the onset of debris."
One of the areas of research NOAA is working with the ShoreZone project on is habitat capability modeling.
"You can qualify certain kinds of habitat," she said. "When you look hat invasive species like the green crab, there are areas where green crab would most likely show up if it gets to Alaska. There could be an additional GIS tool for that with some modeling efforts. It's a huge state, it's a huge challenge to figure out priority sites. We can go in and do our studies, knowing we have the correct habitat. That's something we didn't have before. We would spend money on charters, selecting our habitat. It saves a lot of money up front before we even start our studies."
Lindeberg said they started out just trying to get a little bit of the coastline done, with the long-term goal of finishing the entire state. Then, the plan is to go back and reimage specific areas of interest in greater detail.
"We've already done that with Cook Inlet," Lindeberg said. "I expect some of the areas in the Arctic will be mapped again so we can look at coastal erosion issues, climate change. If there is an event, like a vessel that runs aground, we can reimage that one area. We would be able to have that archival imagery, and then reimage after an event."
Lindeberg said the public loves the imagery coming into the Alaska ShoreZone website.
"They do a lot of desktop reconnaissance if they're planning trips," Lindeberg said. "Tourists use it, 'oh I was right at this beach with my kayak.' Charters plan trips. The Public loves it for recreational purposes, even just seeing aerial photos of their neighborhood. We've had great response. I've got folks letting us know they used it for various things. The Coast Guard has used it for vessels in distress, in the middle of night in the middle of winter. I'm kind of a science nerd, biologist. I want it for my interests and agency's needs, but it's interesting how other folks are using it for other agencies."
Either the NOAA portal for ShoreZone or the main website of www.ShoreZone.org (Other states are mapping their own coastlines with this program) provide instructions on how to use it in greater detail, though cruising through the video or photo runs of the coast is intuitive and fairly easy to use.
Lindeberg said the project will continue to be updated this winter with the latest imagery. That is posted as quickly as possible. The habitat mapping portion of the project takes almost a year to upload and format.
"It's a pretty laborious task to do all of the habitat mapping," Lindeberg said. "It's a pretty rigorous product."
Lindeberg said a huge portion of the mapping was done this summer, with areas like Western Alaska, the Aleutians and the Western Peninsula remaining. Those areas will be more challenging because of the remoteness of the islands.
"Southeast Alaska has a huge chunk of the coast of Alaska, even though it doesn't look like it," she said. "We're close to 60 percent done. We're discovering there's more coastline than the state has us at. We will probably be adding more to how many official kilometers of coastline there are in the state."
Lindeberg said the reason for the difference is probably because the mileage of the islands wasn't previously counted.
"We have lots of partners, and different groups that have funded us through the years," Lindeberg said. "The Park Service was interesting in getting Bering land areas done. We're always looking for new partners, especially with western Alaska. There is a lot of pressure in eastern Aleutians, especially Dutch Harbor with the increased vessel activity there. There is a high risk for vessels running aground there. Getting partners to help fund that area will be critical in the near future. ... I've been working on it for 7-8 years now. We've gotten much further along than I ever anticipated, so it's been great."
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.