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HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2009 > Article Detail

SCIENCE OBSERVER

What's Wrong with this Picture?

A new project will make the effects of pollution in U.S. national parks impossible to miss

Anna Lena Phillips

Click to Enlarge ImageWe visit national parks to get away from traffic and smog. But the latter can be hard to shake, even in remote, pristine-seeming places. Eclipse, an open-source program created by Cary Peppermint and Leila Christine Nadir of EcoArtTech, will make air pollution’s presence visually—and viscerally—explicit.

The application searches the photo-sharing site Flickr for images of U.S. national parks and other “idealized ‘nature’ images,” as Peppermint and Nadir put it. Then Eclipse “corrupts” each image according to real-time air quality index (AQI) values for its location. The data come from http://airnow.gov—the source used for air-quality alerts in weather reports. The image-processing algorithms change contrast and color saturation, blur and rotate segments of the images and even delete parts of them completely. When Eclipse altered the photograph shown above, the location had an AQI of 60, or moderate.

These images play with our ideas of what “nature” is, encouraging critical and imaginative exploration. Want to see how your own neighborhood is doing? Users will also be able to upload images and try the program on them.

EcoArtTech will release Eclipse in early March at http://turbulence.org.—Anna Lena Phillips


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