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Land use cartography 101

Monday, July 15, 2013, by George Andrews
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Polygons, polygons, and more polygons. These little and simple digital shapes may seem mundane, but to a geographer they contain a plethora of information when you place them on a map. I've been spending my summer creating these polygons, and have slowly turned into a budding cartographer.

At first glance, spending nearly an entire summer nestled deep within the Harvard Forest seemed like a daunting task, especially for a guy who has never lived away from home or has held any sort of research position. Luckily however, my time at the Forest has been an amazing and fulfilling experience, and my project has given me an interesting and diversified research experience across Massachusetts. I'm surrounded by a smorgasbord of fellow researchers, from all sorts of science fields, and from across the globe. There is no doubt that I'm an odd one out being a local who normally resides close by in Warren, MA, and attends Worcester State University.

[George Andrews and his mentor, David Kittredge]I'll be coming up on my senior year, and will be finishing a double major in Geography and Communications. Studying timber harvesting from rural to urban towns is a perfect project to compliment all I've learned in the field of geography. Over the summer I've been tasked with creating a map showing all areas of timber harvest along a specific rural to urban transect.

Previous researchers had compiled all the harvesting data from 1984 to 2003, and it's my job to get everything up to date. To do that, my partner Leah and I travelled back and forth from Harvard Forest in Petersham to the DCR office in Clinton, where all the harvest information is stored.

Together, braving aggressive wasps and suffocating dust-bunnies, we wrangled up all the files we needed. Next, we took over 1600 photographs of forest cutting plans that occurred in the towns we are interested in. I must pause for a moment and thank everyone at the DCR office for accommodating our intrusion, and especially Alice for really helping us out and recommending us many neat things to do around the Wachusett Reservoir.

Most of my time has been spent creating a giant map of all the timber harvests, by using the photographs and georeferencing them into GIS. I'm basically just looking at the forest cutting plan, where it is, and then doodling it onto a map. I'm almost done of all 588 of them!

Eventually the map should be a fantastic representation of what people are doing with their land, and definitely so when paired with landowner survey data that my partner Leah is working on.

Thankfully, my mentor is kind enough to whisk us away every now and then to escape continuous data entry. We've explored areas of the Quabbin Reservoir, travelled to many little Massachusetts towns, and we even visited Boston University today to present some of our research.

While staying at Harvard Forest I've been able to absorb many neat things from all the weekly seminars, museum visits, and grad panels, while going on adventurous trips on my days off. I've already spent weekends in Vermont, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, and now Maine this coming Saturday. Afterhours are filled with tennis, fishing, hiking, frisbee, and other activities with great people whom you can really learn a lot from.

Unfortunately I'm already over half way done here at Harvard Forest, and it's time to dig real deep and analyze all my research. I know that time will fly by, but I'm certain I will make the most out of every experience here at Harvard Forest. 

George Andrews

Quirky Q&A with George

What do you sing in the shower, if you do sing?

Well this is an easy question. It's usually an eclectic mix of tunes by Queen, Journey, and maybe some Buddy Holly or the Beach Boys. Those are my default choices for beautiful shower singing. 

Would you rather travel by train, car, plane or ship?

Hmm, let's see. Car is immediately tossed, since it's the most common method of travel, and they're completely boring on long road trips. Unless it's absolutely amazing...which is something I don't have! Trains are really cool, but they're not as charming and retro as the steam engines which used to rule the country, so they've turned into overpriced and giant cars. Ships are amazing, since they can have so many different activities onboard a ship, and you get to stand on the deck and rock back and forth. Did I say rock back and forth? That basically means I'll be spending most of my time on the seas barfing into a cramped bathroom because of seasickness, so that rules ships out. By process of elimination, and the chance of seeing spectacular puffy clouds, I would choose planes as my preferred means of travel.

What nocturnal animal would you be if you had to choose and why?

I'd definitely be an owl. In fact, I hear it's a hoot. Wow that was really lame. But seriously, you get to fly around all stealthy and stuff, prey on almost anything smaller than you, see in the dark, and nest in cozy tree hollows. You also get to sleep all day, and swivel your head around nearly 360 degrees. Yep, definitely a no-brainer, I'd be an owl.