Puerto Ricans, as U.S. citizens, are able to travel freely between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, many of them sought refuge in Florida, New York and other parts of the U.S. Using anonymized cell phone location data for some 500,000 smart phones, data analysis firm Teralytics was able to map where Puerto Ricans moved from August 2017 to February 2018. CityLab has the maps and the story: “Between these months, nearly 6 percent of the Puerto Rican population left the island and is still living in the continental U.S. Another 6 percent left between October and September 2017 but returned to the island by February 2018.”
There are many circumstances where the amount of data vastly exceeds the ability to process and analyze it—and computers can only do so much. Enter crowdsourcing. Steve Coast points to Digital Globe’s Tomnod project, which basically crowdsources satellite image analysis. In the case of the current project to map the presence of Weddell seals on the Antarctic Peninsula and the ice floes of the Weddell Sea, users are given an image tile and asked to indicate whether there are seals in the image. It’s harder than it looks, but it’s the kind of routine task that most people can do—many hands, light work and all that—and it helps researchers focus their attention where it needs focusing. (A similar campaign for the Ross Sea took place in 2016.)
Another ongoing campaign asks users to identify flooded and damaged infrastructure and trash heaps in post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico.
When disaster strikes, crowdmapping kicks into high gear. Last Friday, six universities hosted mapathons where volunteers, using satellite imagery, contributed to the map of Puerto Rico and other hurricane-damaged areas on OpenStreetMap. More from one of the universities involved. Here’s the relevant project page on the OSM Wiki.
At NASA’s Earth Observatory, before and after images of Puerto Rico’s nighttime lights illustrate the extent of power outages and infrastructure damage on the island. NASA has also produced a map of likely damaged areas of eastern Puerto Rico, based on before and after radar satellite interferometry and similar to the map they produced for the Mexican earthquake. At ground level, the CrowdRescue Puerto Rico Infrastructure Map displays crowdsourced reports of damage—downed power lines, bridge collapses, floods, mudslides and other incidents.
Some of the most striking maps of the recent bout of hurricanes have involved the sheer amount of water dropped by these storms. (See previous posts on Harvey and Irma.) Above, a is a short NASA video showing Maria’s track through the Caribbean, dumping water in its wake.
Relatedly, the Washington Post produced maps of precipitation and river gauge levels on Puerto Rico that show just how much water Maria threw at that island.