Mapping the previous, current and way forward for West Virginia

IMAGE: Aaron Maxwell
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Credit: West Virginia University

New analysis from West Virginia University is reworking understanding of the Mountain State’s well-known panorama – and figuring out methods to protect it.

As WVU’s newest NSF CAREER Award winner, Assistant Professor of Geography Aaron Maxwell will use large information to map what the floor of West Virginia appeared like over the past 60 years. The funding contains $636,785 over 5 years.

Maxwell will use information analytics and superior computational strategies to extract precious data from current geospatial information over vast areas of the state. Through these strategies, his analysis can improve our understanding of pure landscapes and the way they modify over time.

“West Virginia is an interesting place to do this type of work because of the rich, complicated history with surface mining and, on a larger scale, with mountaintop mining in the southern region,” Maxwell mentioned. “There have been massive changes in just the lay of the land, flattening mountaintops and filling in valleys. Having older data and new data allows you to look at change to see where there have been gains and losses in elevation.”

Most mapping strategies thus far are dominated by guide strategies, together with illustrations. However, current advances in imaging expertise by means of distant sensing functions, like these utilized by Maxwell, have the potential to revolutionize this course of.

“This project uses deep learning, which is the process of training a computer algorithm to recognize certain types of features on the landscape by feeding it lots of examples,” Maxwell mentioned. “Once it has learned, you can apply that knowledge to other locations to automate the process so you can expand the available data and the maps that are generated.”

Because mining and different panorama disturbances reshape the land’s bodily floor, automated mapping strategies for characterizing these options is urgently wanted to know and handle pure hazards, corresponding to landslides and river erosion.

“West Virginia has one of the highest per capita landslide rates, so there is a good landscape to study that hazard,” Maxwell mentioned. “We are doing a landslide inventory and doing predictive modeling of where landslides might occur in the future.”

As a part of the venture, Maxwell will associate with WVUteach and CodeWV to create data-focused lesson plans for West Virginia highschool environmental geoscience and pc science lecturers. The curriculum will deal with the coding languages R and Python, generally utilized by information scientists.

“We’re going to get them started in coding and just playing around with data science and spatial data sets,” Maxwell mentioned. “We deal with really complicated data, and there are a lot of careers directly in that or related to it. If you can work with this type of data, you could get into working with business analytics or other similar professions.”

Maxwell has dedicated his profession to finding out West Virginia’s geology and geography. Prior to his present position, the Preston County native was an assistant professor at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi and a distant sensing analyst at WVU’s Natural Resource Analysis Center. He can also be a two-time WVU graduate, incomes grasp’s and doctoral levels in geology.

“My ultimate goal is to stay in West Virginia long term. I want to work toward tenure, bring in graduate students and contribute to the Department of Geology and Geography,” Maxwell mentioned. “This award will allow me to build a good base to continue my research program. I can now focus on a trajectory and long-term goals. I hope this will lead to more opportunities to support students and postdocs in the future.”

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