Many northerners use Google Earth to understand the land around them, but the level of detail is limited compared to other cities. Logan Rudkevitch has a solution: Logan Earth.
Working on the project for years in his spare time, Rudkevitch decided to publicly launch the project after hitting a personal milestone of content added to the map.
Rudkevitch, of Métis and Wiikwemkoong ancestry, was born and raised in Yellowknife. He describes himself as passionate about raising awareness of climate change and building a sense of innovation in his home territory.
“Sometimes northerners just have to do these things themselves because big companies like Google just don’t care to do it, as we are not their top priority,” he said.
“It just doesn’t seem like they care. If you look at New York on Google Earth, the buildings are all in full, crisp 3D. And the data is out there, it just seems like they decided not to update the map.”
Google uses 30-metre by 30-metre pixel sizes in its northern maps, which not only make it challenging to find friends caught in compromising situations, but also limit awareness of changes happening to the land as climate change progresses.
“It’s not easy to see some of these impacts because most people don’t actually have the opportunity to go out there,” Rudkevitch said.
“Part of my motivation for putting this software together was seeing some of these permafrost mega slumps they’re talking about in the Peel region.”
While reports have shown landslides caused by permafrost are increasing in the North, Rudkevitch says it’s hard to visually understand just how many there are until you move across a map and see slump after slump, which are much more clearly defined using two-metre by two-metre pixels.
“Scientists are really looking for AI drive tools that could be based off this data. They’re not really looking for a visual,” he said.
“That’s one of the main reasons why I did this, so I could start checking out some of these sites myself – because as you look across the map, you can really see a lot of them.”
Google Earth is not the only mapping resource available online. The GNWT offers an online map program too, though Rudkevitch says neither of them incorporate digital elevation despite the data being accessible online from Natural Resources Canada and the University of Minnesota.
With the elevation of the land changing from year to year as the ground thaws, current mapping programs can fall short in conveying the scale of permafrost thaw in the territory. The end result, he argues, is that comprehending the scale of permafrost activity becomes challenging and is accessible only to specialists.
Rudkevitch, who is refining the way in which his map displays elevation, has been flying his own drone since 2015 to collect models that improve the detail on his map.
“I think it would be great if we could start having a lot more of a collaborative model on this, and get people submitting more imagery to get the best 3D model possible of the territory,” he said.
That approach isn’t unusual. Collaborative data pooling from social media is used by flood forecasters in order to improve their understanding of where water is moving.
Rudkevitch believes many residents find Google Earth frustrating and “not a true representation of what the ground is like here, at all.”
“I’ve definitely caught myself going out into the bush and thinking a trek was going to be very easy,” he said, “and it turns out it’s actually a cliff. It just looks flat because they’re using such a large pixel.
“I think it’s good for people to have access to knowledge about what the land actually looks like. Especially for those who are still making decisions based off Google Earth.”
Logan Earth can be accessed here.