How extensive is humanity's impact on the planet? It's an important question: if we are to have any hope of better managing our relationship with the environment, we need to know what we're actually doing to the living systems on which we depend. Indeed, knowing the planet is, in some ways, worldchanging job number one.
Which is why I'm amazed we've never written about the MegaFlyover project before. A continuation of the Megatransect project -- which began with ecologist Mike Fay's and photographer Michael Nichols' 1,200 mile trek through Africa's biological hotspots -- the MegaFlyover was a year-long aerial survey of mankind's footprint on the continent:
"The goal of the MegaFlyover is to trace the levels of human influence over Africa's key ecoregions and ignite long-term conservation strategies. ...Dr. Fay's "notepad" is a Cessna 182 equipped with the latest technologies. Using GPS/GIS equipment, he will conduct an in-depth exploration of some of the continent's wildlife, wild lands and human infrastructure. GPS tracking devices are connected to high-resolution digital and video cameras situated on the plane that take aerial photographs every 16 seconds and tag them with latitude, longitude and altitude coordinates for ease of tracing locations against satellite images. He can zero in and identify individual species and human settlements; count roads, and rivers accessible by people, electrical power infrastructure, and irrigation systems. All data is forwarded to WCS Landscape Ecology Labs where they create 3-dimensional maps. Each layer represents a particular theme that can be switched on or off. WCS Staff overlap the layers like puzzle pieces to show an accurate "human footprint" to highlight habitat degradation.
The images themselves are phenomenal, but the stories are even better. Most importantly, though, it seems to me, the MegaFlyover shows both how much we have to learn, and how much small groups of people are capable of finding out.
You can actually find these images and stories in Google Earth. They are part of the National Geographic data that they ported in. From what I know, they spent some effort getting the images laid onto the map with the correct orientation.
I have lost hours looking at the megaflyover pictures on google earth. Time very well spent.