Grassroots Mapping Helps Volunteers Reveal Truth About Gulf Coast Oil Spill

A non-profit project, Grassroots Mapping, teaches volunteers how to create detailed aerial photographs using low-tech equipment, which is proving essential following the Gulf Coast oil spill.

We’ve all seen images of the catastrophic damage to the Gulf Coast caused by the Deepwater Herizon oil spill. But how far has it really spread? Every day, there are different estimates of how much oil has leaked, and how far it has traveled. It’s tough to get the big picture from media sources, and even though the truth may be painful, we’re hungry for it.

A group called Grassroots Mapping is relying on the power of the people to provide real documentation of the oil spill. Using low-tech, low-cost tools like balloons, kites, and remote-controlled airplanes, volunteers are taking detailed aerial photographs of the Gulf Coast region and sharing them publicly to create a comprehensive database of images, which are then stitched into high-resolution maps.

The Grassroots Mapping project launched as a way to help tribal communities in Lima, Peru create maps that could help them claim title to their ancestral lands, and the same technology is working well to capture images of the oil spill. Jeff Warren of MIT Media Lab’s Center for Future Civic Media is the project’s creator, and two expert mappers, Stewart Long and Oliver Yeh, are now collaborating with him on the Gulf mapping project.

Although the devastation seen in the images may be upsetting, it could prove invaluable for helping people and businesses affected by the oil spill to file lawsuits for damages, and will help to hold BP accountable for the damage its caused to the region.

If you’re in the area and want to help out, take a look at Grassroots Mapping’s volunteer page for more information.

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