Artistic Portraits of Earth

Tucson, AZ.  I made a submission of kite aerial photographs to the Third Annual Art of Planetary Science exhibition at University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Creative works of art inspired by the exploration of our Universe were featured next to works that would otherwise only be scientific data. It was a fantastic and unique juxtaposition, with over 200 submissions and over 100 artists.

I’ve been using kite aerial photography as a research tool to gather my own remote sensing data. I started this while I was a postdoc at the Smithsonian, and now, at LPL. I use the images to create three dimensional models and to make comparisons of landforms to other planetary surfaces, but I saw an opportunity to show these data as art. Out of tens of thousands of aerial images I’ve collected, I selected eight, and I had them printed on aluminum.

The Art of Planetary Science is an all-volunteer, public outreach effort run by graduate students at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. You can find out more online at and on Facebook ( Enjoy my image submissions below.

Wind and Water at Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Lava Flow Surfaces, Reminiscent of Mars

Lava fields, El Malpais, New Mexico

Planetary Particles (phi, 4 to -6)

Kite Aerial Photogrammetry of Mud Volcanoes

I have created several digital, three dimensional (3D) models of interesting geologic features over the past few years. This page will catalog a number of these projects and provide examples. In my blog, I plan to describe the methods I’ve used to collect, create and display the data. To get started, I’ve included a small example of the mud volcanoes or “mud pots” that are located near the Salton Sea in California. I visited these features recently during a Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) field trip in October 2015. Below is a 3D viewer. If you want to explore in more detail, select the “Expand” link. Below the model is an embedded web map showing their location. More on this site and the field trip in a future blog post.

3D View of Mud Volcanoes near the Salton Sea, California

Location Map

Field Photo of the Camera Flying over the Mud Volcanoes

Iceland Field Campaign 2015

Flying a kite for aerial photogrammetry was difficult because Iceland has relatively unpredictable weather, including the wind. I was able to make a couple of flights in the northern part of Iceland near the Holuhraun lava flow, which finished erupting just a few months before our arrival. Most of our mapping work during this summer of 2015 field campaign was accomplished using DJI Phantom 3 Professional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). You can see more details here at this website, including publication. Much of this work is still underway.

University of Arizona Press Release

I worked on a project on lava flows in Hawaii with Dr. Christopher Hamilton. One of the goals was to study and understand the morphology of the December 1974 flow from Kilauea. A couple years prior, I had started a hobby of kite aerial photography (KAP). Because of the uncertainty around flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in sensitive places, I was able to leverage my new hobby as a skill to collect over 10,000 kite aerial images of our study site. I used a computer vision technique called multiview stereophotogrammetry to build a digital terrain model at cm-scale spatial resolution for our research team. Read more in the excellent press release written by Daniel Stolte at University of Arizona.

UA Scientists Fly Kites in Hawaii to Study Mars

An outflow channel of the December 1974 lava flow on the big island of Hawaii.

University of Pittsburgh Press Release

Following our publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a few news outlets picked up the story and featured the work on their webpages. Check out the original press release HERE and the research article HERE. I particularly liked the take from AGU Blogosphere and Science Daily. Although apparent thermal inertia (ATI) is typically used for methods in planetary geology, it can still be a useful tool for Earth surface processes.

This time-series of data show how apparent thermal inertia (ATI), calculated from ASTER data, varies across a section of playa and dune surfaces in the White Sands Dune National Monument. High values shown here typically correspond to the wettest areas, where as low values are quite dry.