Climate Central has a new piece on the Drought Monitor photo database, which collects photos from farmers, ranchers and local residents, as well as scientists, providing an in-depth look at changing climate and drought realities on the ground level.
Here’s a clip:
Rather than seeking out the saddest-looking patch of grass in an otherwise green field or a vibrant tree in the middle of a dessicated forest, Shafer and his team are looking for scenes that capture the average state of things. Users can then upload them with a short note using an iPhone or Android app. All the photos are publicly available so anyone can access and use them how they like.
Since the first iteration, Shafer’s group has added Memorial Day and Presidents Day weekends and enlisted the public to participate. That not only means more geographical coverage, but also the chance for a series of images to emerge showing the ebb and flow of drought in places with multiple photos over longer periods of time.
While the results are images that won’t garner too many likes on Instagram, they provide rich data for scientists to scour. Shafer said the photos have been useful in a handful of cases for improving the accuracy of the Drought Monitor. He said the southeast Colorado picture and note is the most striking example.
Shafer compared the photos to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, saying, “It looked like a colored version of those old pictures. That highlighted the severity in southeast Colorado. There’s still a spot in southeast Colorado (of extreme drought) and it’s really from those pictures. It’s a good check on telling us that, well, we have a long ways to go to recover.”
Photos taken this weekend in California could provide simlarly valuable clues about the withering drought currently plaguing the state.
Using the photos as spot checks for the Drought Monitor also point to much bigger usages. As the database grows and contributors add photos season after season, a clearer snapshot of what drought and recovery look like should begin to emerge. And that will help researchers further refine their understanding of the complex topic.