Friday, September 18, 2009

[097] Mapmakers Collaborate On Better Picture of Blackman

EDITORIAL CONTACT: Gina Logue, 615-898-5081

Students and Teachers Create Most Accurate Land Cover Map of Area to Date

(MURFREESBORO) – An MTSU researcher, two undergraduates, a high school student and a high school teacher have produced a land cover map of the Blackman area that is considerably more accurate than the best map currently downloadable from the federal government.
Dr. Mark Abolins, associate professor of geosciences, and his teammates were participants in the STEP-MT program, which was created to “increase discovery-based learning and undergraduate research in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines,” according to the program’s Web site. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation through a grant to the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.
The land cover map depicts developed, agricultural, and forested land within a 10-square kilometer (3.9 square mile) area extending from Stones River National Battlefield and The Avenues in the east across I-24 through Blackman and over to State Route 840 and includes some natural forested areas to the northwest of Blackman.
To make the map, the STEP-MT team used computers to combine information from a May 31, 2009, Landsat image and a June 2009 Rutherford County road map. Abolins divided the team into two groups, equipped them with global positioning system (GPS) devices, and sent them into the field to check the accuracy of the map. The entire project – map-making and accuracy assessment – was completed in less than eight weeks during June and July. “We generated a bunch of random locations, downloaded them into GPS units, and then the students found each of those 519 locations and observed them from a road or the closest point that they could approach it,” says Abolins. The new map has an overall accuracy of 73 to 82 percent. The federal government’s map is only 44 to 52 percent accurate.
“What we found was that our map was enormously more accurate than the best data of this kind that the federal government provides over the Internet,” says Abolins. He attributes the team’s greater accuracy to the fact that developed land in the area increased from about 21 percent in 2001 (the date of the federal map) to between 46 and 57 percent in 2009. The degree of accuracy is even more impressive in light of some of the obstacles the team encountered.
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“We couldn’t very deep into some of the most forested areas because we would lose the satellite signal,” says Siegel High School teacher Christina Nicholas. “Also,
sometimes we couldn’t get as close to our locations as we would like because they were on private property.” Nicholas, who also is an MTSU alumna and graduate student in biology, says she never had made a map before. But she says the experience turned to out to be useful in helping her with her master’s thesis.
Abolins says the practical applications, in addition to the obvious advantages of a more accurate picture of the area, could include environmental research. “These are the headwaters of a couple of tributaries of the west fork of the Stones River,” he says. “The landscape affects water quality. … This was a good area to investigate from that perspective.” In addition to Nicholas, the STEP-MT team members working under Abolins’ guidance with funding from the National Science Foundation were Jordan Graw, undergraduate geosciences major from Hermitage; Erica Cathey, undergraduate physics and astronomy major from Murfreesboro; and Taylor Bailey, Blackman High School student. Abolins presented his team’s work to his fellow professionals at the eighth Middle Tennessee Geographic Information System Forum in Lebanon, Tenn., on Sept. 16


ATTENTION, MEDIA: For aerial copies of the STEP-MT team’s maps, contact Gina Logue in the MTSU Office of News and Public Affairs at 615-898-5081 or

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