Will Drones Take Us Back to the Future?

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How Nature Photographers Can Capture Images that Reveal Our Future

Beacons Beach by Matt Merrifield

How will the weather patterns that we see today affect what our planet looks like in the future?

Believe it or not, by using a drone and your smart phone to capture the California coast this year you can get a glimpse of what our world will be like.

“We are pushing the boundaries of modeling sea level rise and storms by combining information on sea level rise with river floods, and looking at how coastal habitats like wetlands will change. The models are good and the results of different models mostly agree with one another, but they would benefit from ground-truthing,” says Sarah Newkirk, Senior Coastal Project Director for the Nature Conservancy in California. “El Niño is a great opportunity to validate the models. It’s like looking through a crystal ball into a future of higher water levels and more frequent and severe storm events.”

Photographers, both professional and amateur, can add to the database that the  El Niño Monitoring Initiative is creating. By adding geo-tags to your images they can get an accurate sense of how the shoreline appears during this El Niño season.

If you are not used to geo-tags, make sure you enable location services when taking your photos. (For personal privacy reasons, many people turn this feature off, although more people don’t–or perhaps don’t realize this is an option.)

The California coastline changes with these storms. As sea levels rise shorelines shift around the world. This has an impact on our coastal communities and the wildlife as well.

How does monitoring help?

Monitoring both gradual and episodic changes to the shoreline as they happen helps provide real-world evidence to support models that predict impacts of sea-level rise. The more accurate these models are, the better communities can plan to protect people and nature into the future.

By opening this project to the public there is a greater potential for gathering a better overall picture of the situation.

The project also gives lay-persons the chance to learn about about rising sea levels and how it might affect them.

So take some photos and share them with the project.

El Niño is predicted to continue through this spring.

Photos at high tide and after flooding are especially helpful.

Of course, keep your personal safety in mind–don’t risk your life in order to capture that shot.

“Be smart and safe — don’t go out in storms or when extreme wave events are happening,” Newkirk cautions. If you take a drone out for the project, be aware of any laws governing air space in the area and don’t harass wildlife.

Instructions and tips are available on the the El Niño Monitoring Initiative site.

Share your photos here–or on Flickr with the hashtag #elninoca.


Check out the article by Lisa Feldkamp on Nature.org which can be read in entirety here.

Photo credit: Beacon’s Beach, Leucadia © Matt Merrifield/Flickr

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