Ever wondered just how many lakes there are in the world? It turns out, a whole lot!
Scientists based at Uppsala University in Sweden surveyed more than 8000 high-resolution Landsat 7  images to create the largest database of the world’s water bodies, to date. Their estimate: 117 million lakes (> 0.2 hectares) cover the earth, making up nearly 4% of its glacier-free surface area. Laid end to end, the shoreline of these numerous lakes would circle the globe 250 times!
To ensure a reliable analysis, the lakes included in the new global lakes database, GLOWABO, needed to be 2000 square meters or larger, an area nearly the size of two Olympic swimming pools. Even the larger lakes could be tricky to identify: mountain shadows, nearby vegetation, and cloudy water confounded the analysis so the researchers needed to design an algorithm which could untangle any visual uncertainty.
Global lakes databases, like GLOWABO, can help scientists estimate the amount of carbon stored in lake-bottom sediments, as well as the amount of greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide and methane) lakes release into the atmosphere each year.
 Landsat is an Earth Resources Technology Satellite that was launched starting in 1972 to collect data and take remote images of the Earth. Earth-observing satellite missions are jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) hosted the 2014 LakeViz Advisory Board Meeting on May 29 in Cleveland, Ohio, next to beautiful Lake Erie. Joining the meeting were advisors Donna Cox (University of Illinois), John Baek (NOAA), Kate Haley-Goldman (Audience Viewpoints Consulting), and Val Davillier (Great Lakes Science Center).
Given that the LakeViz3D grant is in its third year and nearing completion, we asked the advisors to help distill the intellectual merits of the project accomplished to date and to identify synergistic activities and resources that could be used to carry the work into its next stage.
All advisors noted that the primary challenge faced by the project – applying research-grade tools and making data available for informal science education in science centers – is an important and common problem across scientific disciplines. For example, Advisor Cox relayed the long-term struggle of planetariums developing practitioner-friendly tools to visualize large astrophysical datasets.
During the discussion, the group identified a greater need to document the process of connecting research tools (and especially visualization tools) to end user, in an effort to make institutions embarking on such projects aware of the level of commitment needed to be successful, as well as the pitfalls they may encounter.
To make progress on this goal, advisors suggested (1) convening a museum consortium to identify and discuss the research tool to end-user process, common problems, and success stories and (2) developing decision trees and training documents to disseminate to the greater community. Accordingly, the LakeViz3D team has been working on documenting our process for designing and creating 3D visualizations for educational institutions. We are looking forward to sharing our work in an upcoming publication!
Besides the advisory board meeting, the LakeViz team also toured the Great Lakes Science Center and all of the wonderful exhibits it has to offer, including the ‘Great Lakes Story’ exhibit aboard the W.G. Mather. In addition, GLSC partners such as the Cleveland Water Alliance and Stone Laboratory inspired us with their work on sustainable development and freshwater field research education, respectively. We ended our trip with a fun biology activity, led by an educator from the Great Science Academy, a teen maker program at GLSC: we used laser-cut cardboard parts and LEDs to create DIY fish with biological adaptations of our own design.
We gratefully thank Advisor Val Devillier and Kirsten Ellenbogen, President of the Great Lakes Science Center for sharing their space and hosting the meeting.
In late April, more than fifty visitors participated in a formative evaluation of LakeViz 3D visualizations, tabletops and exhibits at the Lawrence Hall of Science (“the Hall”).
On the first day, LHS educator Elspeth DeShaw led two groups of eager students (grades 2-5) through a multimedia lesson on watersheds, which was designed to explore how best to combine 3D visualizations with hands-on tabletop activities.
The students first soared through the Lake Tahoe watershed via the 3D ‘Drop of Water’ visualization. They then created their own watersheds with a hands-on activity which used newspaper, waterproof tablecloths, and instant tea grounds to create topography, observe water’s paths and explore how pollution might affect the watershed.
The Lawrence Hall of Science (“the Hall”) staff has been busily preparing its Shaping Watersheds exhibit for prime time. The Hall shop staff did a wonderful job customizing and adding key modifications: re-locating the ‘Drain’ button for improved ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access, adding a transparent lid and new frame to enable two modes of use (facilitated and unfacilitated), and adding a USB port in the former location of the original drain switch. The USB port allows a keyboard to be connected to access the computer within the cabinetry.
This spring, LakeViz team members and Cal Academy colleagues participated in a day-long workshop to explore Google’s newest geo-tools. The workshop was led by the enthusiastic John Bailey, Program Manager for GeoEducation from Google Earth’s Outreach team. Through a collaboration with the California Academy of the Sciences, Ryan Wyatt, Director of the Morrison Planetarium and Science Visualization, served as our gracious host for the training.
One of the main challenges the LakeViz3D team has faced has been how to make research-level visualization tools (e.g., Crusta, LIDAR Viewer) — that produce high-fidelity imagery — usable for educators and non-technical staff to create their own 3D educational visualizations. The workshop was, in part, intended to explore whether relatively familiar, user-friendly interfaces such as Google’s geo-tools could serve as more accessible entry points for educators to create supplementary visualization tools for their audiences.