Map specialists help snow researcher in the Arctic Refuge
University of Alaska Fairbanks snow researcher Matthew Sturm recently completed a 750-mile arctic trip with special help from mapping specialists.
Sturm, a UAF geophysics professor, and his team completed a challenging leg of their snowmachine traverse of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with relative ease, thanks to assistance from the Geographic Information Network of Alaska at the UAF International Arctic Research Center.
Sturm needed more information than was available from regular topographical maps. GINA employees helped him select a safe and passable route over the crest of the Brooks Range north of Arctic Village. They gave Sturm a program called Quantum Geographic Information Systems. QGIS, a desktop application, is open source and therefore free to anyone. It enables a user to create layered maps, among other things.
GINA’s Mitch Slife helped Sturm use QGIS to create his own route layer over available satellite imagery, also provided by GINA. The imagery had such fine detail that it allowed Sturm to avoid moraine boulders and areas subject to river overflow, and to find a route where vegetation was passable.
“The maps could tell us where it would be too steep for our heavily loaded snowmobiles and sleds,” Sturm said.
Established in 2001, GINA is the leading provider of geospatial data in the Arctic. The satellite imagery Sturm used is one such example. GINA is part of the Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative ortho program, the first concerted effort to collect a statewide high-resolution, high-accuracy digital imagery mosaic for Alaska. So far, the program has achieved 99 percent coverage of the state.
GINA shares its data with communities across Alaska, the Arctic and the world, from individuals and researchers to agencies and organizations. It also offers technological assistance to all, including GIS classes.
Sturm recounted how efficient his research trip turned out to be.
“Sitting in a tent, I opened QGIS on my laptop computer," he said. "I picked a couple of waypoints and plugged them into a GPS. The next day we broke a trail up the route, getting through in half a day, rather than the several days we thought it might take.”