FREE EPRINT: Sustainable Development Goals: genuine global change requires genuine measures of efficacy, Journal of Maps

Smith, M.J.
Journal of Maps

We live in tumultuous times - it is a common refrain for each new generation as the challenges of contemporary society impinge upon their worldview. There is always change and there is no change quite like how we experience it in the here and now and the way in which it disrupts our status quo. Malthus was disturbed by population change and how it would implode the society he inhabited. His thesis - the Principle of Population (1798) - espoused what became known as the Malthusian trap whereby growth in the supply of resources led to an increase in population so negating any boost to living standards. The so-called ‘limits to growth’ remain topical both for proponents and opponents. So is the world we inhabit today any different?

FREE EPRINT: Editorial: Perspectives on the contemporary art-geoscience interface, Journal of Maps

Tooth, S., Smith, M.J., Viles, H.A. and Parrott, F.
Journal of Maps

This Special Issue of the Journal of Maps is devoted to highlighting contemporary examples of interdisciplinary collaborations between the arts and the geosciences (e.g. geomorphology, geology, Quaternary studies), with a specific focus upon the exploration of locations using, at least in part, some form of mapping. As previous contributions to the journal have exemplified, mapping is essential for the exploration of locations, particularly by supplying visual representation to help with the characterisation of three core geographical concepts (Matthews & Herbert, 2008): space (e.g. distances, directions), place (e.g. boundaries, territories), and environment (e.g. biophysical characteristics).

FREE EPRINT: Testing and application of a model for snow redistribution (Snow_Blow) in the Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica, Journal of Glaciology

Mills, S.C., Le Brocq, A.M., Winter, K., Smith, M.J., Hillier, J., Ardakova, E., Boston, C., Sugden, D. and Woodward, J.
Journal of Glaciology

Wind-driven snow redistribution can increase the spatial heterogeneity of snow accumulation on ice caps and ice sheets, and may prove crucial for the initiation and survival of glaciers in areas of marginal glaciation. We present a snowdrift model (Snow_Blow), which extends and improves the model of Purves et al. (1999). The model calculates spatial variations in relative snow accumulation that result from variations in topography, using a digital elevation model (DEM) and wind direction as inputs. Improvements include snow redistribution using a flux routing algorithm, DEM resolution independence and the addition of a slope curvature component. This paper tests Snow_Blow in Antarctica (a modern environment) and reveals its potential for application in palaeo-environmental settings, where input meteorological data are unavailable and difficult to estimate. Specifically, Snow_Blow is applied to the Ellsworth Mountains in West Antarctica where ablation is considered to be predominantly related to wind erosion processes. We find that Snow_Blow is able to replicate well the existing distribution of accumulating snow and snow erosion as recorded in and around Blue Ice Areas. Lastly, a variety of model parameters are tested, including depositional distance and erosion vs wind speed, to provide the most likely input parameters for palaeo-environmental reconstructions.

FREE EPRINT: Quantification of Hydrocarbon Abundance in Soils using Deep Learning with Dropout and Hyperspectral Data, Remote Sensing

Asmau Ahmed, Olga Duran, Yahya Zweiri, Mike Smith
Remote Sensing

Terrestrial hydrocarbon spills have the potential to cause significant soil degradation across large areas. Identification and remedial measures taken at an early stage are therefore important. Reflectance spectroscopy is a rapid remote sensing method that has proven capable of characterizing hydrocarbon-contaminated soils. In this paper, we develop a deep learning approach to estimate the amount of Hydrocarbon (HC) mixed with different soil samples using a three-term backpropagation algorithm with dropout. The dropout was used to avoid overfitting and reduce computational complexity. A Hyspex SWIR 384 m camera measured the reflectance of the samples obtained by mixing and homogenizing four different soil types with four different HC substances, respectively. The datasets were fed into the proposed deep learning neural network to quantify the amount of HCs in each dataset. Individual validation of all the dataset shows excellent prediction estimation of the HC content with an average mean square error of ~2.2×10-4. The results with remote sensed data captured by an airborne system validate the approach. This demonstrates that a deep learning approach coupled with hyperspectral imaging techniques can be used for rapid identification and estimation of HCs in soils, which could be useful in estimating the quantity of HC spills at an early stage.

FREE EPRINT: Assessment of low altitude UAS flight strategy on DEM accuracy, Earth Science Informatics

Anders, N.S., Smith, M.J., Suomalainen, J., Cammeraat, L.H., and Keesstra, S.D.
Earth Science Informatics

Soil erosion, rapid geomorphological change and vegetation degrada- tion are major threats to the human and natural environment. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) can be used as tools to provide detailed and accurate estimations of landscape change. The effect of flight strategy on the accuracy of UAS image data products, typically a digital surface model (DSM) and orthophoto, is unknown. Herein different flying altitudes (126-235 m) and area coverage orientations (N-S and SW-NE) are assessed in a semi-arid and medium-relief area where terraced and abandoned agricultural fields are heavily damaged by piping and gully erosion. The assessment was with respect to cell size, vertical and horizontal accuracy, absolute difference of DSM, and registration of recognizable landscape features. The results show increasing cell size (5-9 cm) with increasing altitude, and differences between elevation values (10-20 cm) for different flight directions. Vertical accuracy ranged 4-7 cm but showed no clear relationship with flight strategy, whilst horizontal error was stable (2-4 cm) for the different orthophotos. In all data sets, geomorphological features such as piping channels, rills and gullies and vegetation patches could be labeled by a technician. Finally, the datasets have been released in a public repository.

FREE EPRINT: ‘Reading landscape’: interdisciplinary approaches to understanding, Journal of Maps

Mike J. Smith, Flora Parrott, Anna Monkman, James O’Connor and L. Rousham
Journal of Maps

This paper outlines a collaborative project between a group of Fine Art and Geography students who helped develop and contribute to a conversation about recording ‘place’. Introducing methodologies from both disciplines, the project started from the premise of all environmental ‘recordings’ being ‘inputs’ and so questioned what could be defined as ‘data’ when encountering a location. Brunel’s Grand Entrance to the Thames Tunnel (London) provided the motivation for 10 objective and subjective ‘recordings’ which were subsequently distilled into a smaller subset and then used to produce a short film that was presented at an international conference. Important to the collaborative nature of the project were ongoing opportunities to share equipment, techniques, material and references across disciplines. It was an experiment to measure the potential for ‘mapping’ to capture physical and historical information, as well as embodied experience.

FREE EPRINT: Land inundation and cropping intensity influences on organic carbon in the agricultural soils of Bangladesh, Catena

M.J. Uddin, Peter S. Hooda, A.S.M. Mohiuddin, Mike J. Smith and Martyn Waller

Land inundation is a common occurrence in Bangladesh, mainly due to the presence of two major river systems -the Brahmaputra and the Ganges. Inundation influences land use and cropping intensity. However, there is little information on the influences of the extent of flooding and cropping intensity has on soil organic carbon (SOC),particularly at the landscape level. To investigate these influences, we collected 268 surface (0-30 cm) soil samples from 4 large sites within the two alluviums deposits (the Brahmaputra river and the Ganges river), on a regular grid (1600 m). The findings show that SOC levels are generally low, reflecting the intensity of agriculture and land management practices. SOC variability was higher across the medium high land (MHL) and medium low land (MLL) sites than in the high land (HL) and low land (LL) sites. The relatively low SOC levels and variability in the HL sites indicate soils here might have reached to equilibrium levels due to higher land use intensity. Topographically higher lands (HL and MHL), due to less of inundation, had higher cropping intensities and lower SOC’s than lower lands (MLL and LL), which had lower cropping intensities, as they remain inundated for longer periods of time. The findings clearly demonstrate the intrinsic influence of land inundation in driving cropping intensity, land management practices and SOC levels.

FREE EPRINT: Summary of activities 2018, Journal of Maps

Mike J. Smith (2019)
Journal of Maps

Creativity is one of those tropes that seems to do the rounds regularly in, well, creative circles. Almost by definition, it is levelled at the arts, in part because its base definition is along the lines of the ability to create. Withinthis context, cartography is well-poised because any map requires the cartographer to create a new, unrealised, graphic product.

OPEN ACCESS EPRINT: Demystifying academics to enhance university-business collaborations in environmental science

John K. Hillier, Geoffrey R. Saville, Mike J. Smith, Alister J. Scott, Emma K. Raven, Jonathon Gascoigne, Louise J. Slater, Nevil Quinn, Andreas Tsanakas, Claire Souch, Gregor C. Leckebusch, Neil Macdonald, Alice M. Milner, Jennifer Loxton13, Rebecca Wilebore, Alexandra Collins, Colin MacKechnie, Jaqui Tweddle, Sarah Moller, MacKenzie Dove, Harry Langford, and Jim Craig (2019)
Geoscience Communication

challenge posed by a heavily time-constrained culture; specifically, tension exists between opportunities presented by working with business and non-optional duties (e.g. administration and teaching). Thus, to justify the time to work with business, such work must inspire curiosity and facilitate future novel science in order to mitigate its conflict with the overriding imperative for academics to publish. It must also provide evidence of real-world changes (i.e. impact), and ideally other reportable outcomes (e.g. official status as a business’ advisor), to feed back into the scientist’s performance appraisals. Indicatively, amid 20-50 key duties, typical full-time scientists may be able to free up to 0.5 day per week for work with business. Thus specific, pragmatic actions, including short-term and time-efficient steps, are proposed in a “user guide” to help initiate and nurture a long-term collaboration between an early- to mid-career environmental scientist and a practitioner in the insurance sector. These actions are mapped back to a tailored typology of impact and a newly created representative set of appraisal criteria to explain how they may be effective, mutually beneficial and overcome barriers. Throughout, the focus is on environmental science, with illustrative detail provided through the example of natural hazard risk modelling in the insurance sector. However, a new conceptual model of academics’ behaviour is developed, fusing perspectives from literature on academics’ motivations and performance assessment, which we propose is internationally applicable and transferable between sectors. Sector-specific details (e.g. list of relevant impacts and user guide) may serve as templates for how people may act differently to work more effectively together.

TED: Academic research is publicly funded - why isn’t it publicly available?

An interesting talk from TEDxMileHighWomen. Worth a watch to get a short 10-min summary of some of the issues involved with publishing academic research - the comments are worth a look too.

As Erica Stone implies, she hasn’t got much experience in academic publishing and it unfortunately shows. There are some points well made, but there is and underlying naivety about the role of publishing, the cost, the requirements of universities and the amount of time academics have. As I noted in my editorial this year:

Academic publishing is a knowledge distribution and academic assessment system, partially funded by universities and research institutes.

To publish you have cross-subsidise, or go down an author or reader pays route - ironically (and perhaps to the chagrin of the OA camp), OA is currently costing the system more than a subscription model on an annual basis and probably on a pageview basis too. But, let’s keep the debate going!

How to be a journal editor

The Times Education published some top tips on How to be a great journal editor: advice from eight top academic editors… see my contribution at the end and ruminate on what it takes to keep the oils of academia oiled!

FREE EPRINT: Summary of activities 2017, Journal of Maps

Mike J. Smith (2018)
Journal of Maps

As a journal we notionally have two overlapping sets of “customers” - readers and authors. Authors provide the content whilst readers consume it. In a subscription funding model, readers pay for journal production, whilst in an open access (OA) model, authors pay. Somewhat uniquely in publishing, advertising plays a very limited part. And akin to commercial publishing, we have an overall journal editor (or Editor-in-Chief) and section editors (or Associate Editors).

Want to be a successful academic? It’s all about getting published

Hot on the heels of PhD thesis: writing it up (and the art of procrastination), The Times Education published Want to be a successful academic? It’s all about getting published - in this opinion piece Im covering some of the more practical elements about progressing from your PhD to publishing in journals and what you need to do to achieve this. These thoughts have been gathered from colleagues, students and the scars of publishing!!

PhD thesis: writing it up (and the art of procrastination)

I recently had an opinion piece published in Times Higher Education - this is advice on the process of writing up, how we all procrastinate on finishing it and what to do about it! It evolved out of discussions with PhD students over the years and advice to them, as well as fighting my own procrastination monkey at times. These things have worked for me and for some students, so if you struggle with getting those words down on paper… give them a try!

FREE EPRINT: Hybrid Spectral Unmixing: Using Artificial Neural Networks for Linear/ Non-Linear Switching

Asmau M Ahmed, Olga Duran, Yahya Zweiri and Mike Smith
Remote Sensing

Spectral unmixing is a key process in identifying spectral signature of materials and quantifying their spatial distribution over an image. The linear model is expected to provide acceptable results when two assumptions are satisfied: (1) The mixing process should occur at macroscopic level and (2) Photons must interact with single material before reaching the sensor. However, these assumptions do not always hold and more complex nonlinear models are required. This study proposes a new hybrid method for switching between linear and nonlinear spectral unmixing of hyperspectral data based on artificial neural networks. The neural networks was trained with parameters within a window of the pixel under consideration. These parameters are computed to represent the diversity of the neighboring pixels and are based on the Spectral Angular Distance, Covariance and a non linearity parameter. The endmembers were extracted using Vertex Component Analysis while the abundances were estimated using the method identified by the neural networks (Vertex Component Analysis, Fully Constraint Least Square Method, Polynomial Post Nonlinear Mixing Model or Generalized Bilinear Model). Results show that the hybrid method performs better than each of the individual techniques with high overall accuracy, while the abundance estimation error is significantly lower than that obtained using the individual methods. Experiments on both synthetic dataset and real hyperspectral images demonstrated that the proposed hybrid switch method is efficient for solving spectral unmixing of hyperspectral images as compared to individual algorithms.

Cameras and settings for aerial surveys in the geosciences: optimizing image data

James O’Connor, Mike Smith, Mike R. James (2017)
Progress in Physical Geography

Aerial image capture has become very common within the geosciences due to the increasing affordability of low payload (<20 kg) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for consumer markets. Their application to surveying has subsequently led to many studies being undertaken using UAV imagery and derived products as primary data sources. However, image quality and the principles of image capture are seldom given rigorous discussion. In this contribution we firstly revisit the underpinning concepts behind image capture, from which the requirements for acquiring sharp, well exposed and suitable image data are derived. Secondly, the platform, camera, lens and imaging settings relevant to image quality planning are discussed, with worked examples to guide users through the process of considering the factors required for capturing high quality imagery for geoscience investigations.

Given a target feature size and ground sample distance based on mission objectives, flight height and velocity should be calculated to ensure motion blur is kept to a minimum. We recommend using a camera with as big a sensor as is permissible for the aerial platform being used (to maximise sensor sensitivity), effective focal lengths of 24 - 35 mm (to minimize errors due to lens distortion) and optimising ISO (to ensure shutter speed is fast enough to minimise motion blur). Finally, we give recommendations for the reporting of results by researchers in order to help improve the confidence in, and reusability of, surveys through: providing open access imagery where possible, presenting example images and excerpts, and detailing appropriate metadata to rigorously describe the image capture process.

FREE EPRINT: Summary of activities 2016, Journal of Maps

Mike J. Smith (2017)
Journal of Maps

As you will see with this Editorial, it has been a year ofintense activity at the Journal of Maps (JoM). The mostimportant announcement is the move of JoM back toan Open Access (OA) publishing model which waseffective from 1st September 2016.

Journal of Maps Call for Papers: Art-Geoscience

Art-geoscience: exploring interdisciplinary representations of space and place

We would like to invite contributions to a special issue of the Journal of Maps devoted to interdisciplinary collaborations between the arts and sciences, with a specific focus upon an exploration of a location using, at least in part, some form of mapping and ideally involving the collaboration of artists and scientists.

The fundamental basis for this special issue is the growing interest in interdisciplinary collaboration and in particular the crossover between the arts and sciences. Art is seen an important component in exploring and explaining science, whilst science offers new avenues for creative investigation and recording of phenomena. This is a general call for a special issue entitled ‘art-geoscience: exploring interdisciplinary representations of space and place’ and provides an opportunity for collaborative researchers to present their work.

Recent years have seen increased collaboration between the arts and sciences, with conferences, exhibitions and residencies devoted to exploring the inspirations and mutual benefits that can arise from activities that bridge the two spheres. Subjects such as biology, chemistry, and global climate change commonly feature prominently in such collaborations, but many of the geosciences (e.g. geomorphology, geology, geophysics) are less well represented.

Despite rapid movements towards global connectedness, with people, goods, services and scientific data now moving at speed over vast distances, space and place still retain great power in shaping the world. Many visual art forms can help to document and represent such themes, especially when combined with various forms of mapping.

Without constraining the range of topics that are potentially suitable for inclusion in the special issue, we offer the following as examples:

  • use of scientific methods or techniques specifically for an artistic investigations of a location;
  • scientific data already collected for a location-based projects that are re-used or re-purposed for artistic means;
  • artistic data or outputs that are re-purposed and re-used for a location-based, scientific project;
  • use of artistic techniques to investigate phenomena and/or enhance presentation and communication of scientific data.

The artistic medium can be anything that can be reasonably explained or presented within the journal. Beyond the inclusion of traditional mapping products (see below), we are keen to see submissions that may also use 3D models, video or audio to enable space- and place-based representations, or videos that present and explore the artistic work itself.

All papers are expected to consist of a map or series of maps (loosely and broadly defined to include various forms of spatial representation) accompanied by brief explanatory text. Papers should be bespoke, and the mapping of good quality. All papers in this special issue will be peer reviewed. To submit a paper, authors should do the following:

1. Submit a short draft (500 word limit) outlining the key themes and scope of the paper, where possible including example mapping, by 28 February 2017.

Abstract selection will be by the special issue editorial team. You will receive a notification by 31 March 2017.

2. Submit a completed paper (4000 word limit) by 30 June 2017.

3. The special issue will be published in 2018.

Ideally, the work would involve the collaboration of artists and scientists.

The special issue editorial team are happy to discuss ideas for papers and their suitability with potential contributors prior to the short draft submission stage. Please email Mike Smith ( or Stephen Tooth ( in the first instance.

All submissions should be made via the Journal of Maps website ( where further guidance on all aspects of submission can be found. Please note the journal is open access, with an article processing charge of 400.

Stephen Tooth, Aberystwyth University, UK
Mike Smith, Kingston University, UK
Heather Viles, University of Oxford, UK
Flora Parrott, Tintype, London, UK

Open Access WeeK: article at T&F

Its Open Access Week this week and our publisher at the Journal of Maps, Taylor and Francis, are running a range of activities promoting OA. So go check out the resources to look at what OA has to offer and, not least (!), my own article on implications and stakeholders in moving to OA.

FREE EPRINT: Selecting cameras for UAV surveys, GIM International

James O’Connor and Mike J. Smith (2016)
GIM International

With the boom in the use of consumer-grade cameras on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveying and photogrammetric applications, this article seeks to review a range of different cameras and their critical attributes. Firstly, it establishes the most important considerations when selecting a camera for surveying. Secondly, the authors make a number of recommendations at various price points.


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