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Public cameras capture valuable data on plant growth

14 January 2010
cctv cameraImages taken by public cameras connected to the Internet could offer a rich source of data to researchers studying the effects of climate change on plant growing seasons.

That’s the conclusion of a study accepted for publication in Global Change Biology, which investigated the possible use of cameras originally set up for purposes such as monitoring air quality or traffic. In the past, scientists have typically tracked the timing of the seasons with laborious ground surveys, which can only cover a small area, or low-resolution satellite observations.

The researchers pinpointed the locations of 1,141 public cameras in North America and captured two images per day from 2008-09. They then compared photos from 30 cameras to satellite images of the same areas. The camera data had fewer low-quality days than satellite data – which can be obscured by clouds – and sometimes led to more accurate estimates of spring’s arrival, the team reports.

The photos also allowed researchers to distinguish different types of vegetation, which are hard to tell apart on satellite images. Internet-connected cameras could provide “a relatively untapped and freely available resource for supporting large-scale ecological and environmental monitoring,” the team writes.

Source: Roberta Kwok and Graham, E., Riordan, E., Yuen, E., Estrin, D., & Rundel, P. (2010). Public Internet-connected cameras used as a cross-continental ground-based plant phenology monitoring system Global Change Biology Accepted Article

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