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Data Series 846

Low-Altitude Photographic Transects of the Arctic Network of National Park Units and Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, July 2013

By Bruce G. Marcot, M. Torre Jorgenson, and Anthony R. DeGange

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (9.9 MB)Abstract

During July 16–18, 2013, low-level photography flights were conducted (with a Cessna 185 with floats and a Cessna 206 with tundra tires) over the five administrative units of the National Park Service Arctic Network (Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Noatak National Preserve) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Selawik National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Alaska, to provide images of current conditions and prevalence of land-cover types as a baseline for measuring future change, and to complement the existing grid-based sample photography of the region. Total flight time was 17 hours, 46 minutes, and total flight distance was 2,590 kilometers, at a mean altitude of about 300 meters above ground level.

A total of 19,167 photographs were taken from five digital camera systems:

    1. A Drift® HD-170 (focal length 5.00 mm);
    2. A GoPro® Hero3 Black Edition (focal length 2.77 mm);
    3. A Panasonic® Lumix DMC-FZ200 (24× superzoom with variable focal length);
    4. A Panasonic® Lumix DMC-SZ7 (10x superzoom with variable focal length); and
    5. A Canon® Rebel 3Ti with a Sigma zoom lens (18–200 mm focal length).

The Drift® HD-170 and GoPro® Hero3 cameras were secured to the struts and underwing for nadir (direct downward) imaging. The Panasonic® and Canon® cameras were each hand-held for oblique-angle landscape images, shooting through the airplanes’ windows, targeting both general landscape conditions as well as landscape features of special interest, such as tundra fire scars and landslips.

The Drift® and GoPro® cameras each were set for time-lapse photography at 5-second intervals for overlapping coverage. Photographs from all cameras (100 percent .jpg format) were date- and time-synchronized to geographic positioning system waypoints taken during the flights, also at 5-second intervals, providing precise geotagging (latitude-longitude) of all files. All photographs were adjusted for color saturation and gamma, and nadir photographs were corrected for lens distortion for the Drift® and GoPro® cameras’ 170° wide-angle distortion. EXIF (exchangeable image file format) data on camera settings and geotagging were extracted into spreadsheet databases. An additional 1 hour, 20 minutes, and 43 seconds of high-resolution videos were recorded at 60 frames per second with the GoPro® camera along selected transect segments, and also were image-adjusted and corrected for lens distortion. Geotagged locations of 12,395 nadir photographs from the Drift® and GoPro® cameras were overlayed in a geographic information system (ArcMap 10.0) onto a map of 44 ecotypes (land- and water-cover types) of the Arctic Network study area. Presence and area of each ecotype occurring within a geographic information system window centered on the location of each photograph were recorded and included in the spreadsheet databases. All original and adjusted photographs, videos, geographic positioning system flight tracks, and photograph databases are available by contacting

First posted May 21, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Alaska Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
4210 University Dr
Anchorage, Alaska 99508-4560

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Suggested citation:

Marcot, B.G., Jorgensen, M.T., and DeGange, A.R., 2014, Low-altitude photographic transects of the Arctic Network of National Park Units and Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, July 2013: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 846, 44 p.,

ISSN 2327-638X (online)




Description of Study Area




References Cited

Appendix 1. Calculations of Time-Lapse Interval Needed for Continuous Flight Line Photography

Appendix 2. Details of Photograph Processing

Appendix 3. Analysis of Ecotype Coverage in Photographs

Appendix 4. Metadata Documentation of Arctic Network Photograph Database Files

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