Environmental news site InfoAmazonia, which pioneered using satellite data for reporting, is adding a new source to its coverage: observations from the ground.
The site will gather and share information from people living and working in the Amazon, including “indigenous communities, researchers, NGOs, students and engaged citizens acting on social media,” said Brazil-based data journalist Gustavo Faleiros, who founded the site. These reports will show how “data from satellites in the sky relates to the reality on the ground.”
“The perspective from human observation [will add] to the precision of the data provided by satellite,” said Faleiros, who leads InfoAmazonia as part of his ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowship. “We believe that bringing citizen information to the platform will add depth and context to data we obtain by remote sensing.”
For example, when InfoAmazonia updates its map of deforestation in the region with fresh satellite data, communities in the affected regions can verify the new information and help explain it.
“Satellites do see a lot of things, but they do not tell you the reasons why an area of forest has been cleared,” Faleiros said. Is it “now being used for cattle ranching or mining? You can guess based on your experience, but the real story, the characters involved, the human dimension will emerge from the ground reporting.”
To make it happen, InfoAmazonia is partnering with NGOs in the nine countries of the Amazon rainforest region. The crowdsourcing initiative has financial support from the Avina and Skoll foundations. Together, they are donating US$114,000 for InfoAmazonia to build applications that enable citizen reporting, data sharing and fact checking.
The Environmental News Lab, or ((o))ecoLab, which Faleiros also founded as a Knight Fellow, will build the crowdsourcing functions. (The lab is part of InfoAmazonia's parent organization, environmental news site O Eco.)
Since its launch in 2012, InfoAmazonia has built 18 different maps that together display 12GB of geographical data, including deforestation and protected areas. You can browse the maps here.
Until now, InfoAmazonia has relied on partner news organizations to add context to the satellite data it displays on maps. So far, the site has aggregated 1,300 stories, which are geotagged from all over the nine countries of the Amazon region. The site will continue to pull in news stories; the new crowdsourced reports will add even more context. You can browse news stories by subject here.
In the video below, some of InfoAmazonia's partners show how they use the site’s visualizations.
Last year, ((o))ecoLab launched JEO, the platform that powers InfoAmazonia. JEO is open source, and ((o))ecoLab partners with other organizations that want to launch their own geojournalism sites, such as Oxpeckers, which tracks rhino poaching in South Africa and Ekuatorial, which reports on climate change in Indonesia.
If you're interested in collaborating with InfoAmazonia or creating your own project with JEO, you can contact Faleiros and the team at the Lab.