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Diné Environmental Institute

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by Kirk Jalbert

Photos Credit: Kirk Jalbert

In early July 2011 I visited the first of two field sites to conduct educational workshops using the RPI Community Sensor systems at DEI. The Diné Environmental Institute is an NSF funded research group at Diné College on the Navajo Reservation. Diné College is a tribal university system with reservation locations throughout NM and AZ. In attendance were a dozen summer environmental monitoring interns who had been trained on using more sophisticated instruments and GIS mapping. Our contribution was to downscale these ideas to emphasize their foundational importance.

By this time our project had evolved into not only the devices themselves, but also a stripped down equivalent of a GIS system developed by Louis using Google Maps APIs. For my part I had spent May and June developing a series of workshop booklets to serve as guides for participants. These were intended as a series of worksheets and instructions for the daily activities, but also meant to solicit conversation around communal responsibility and social justice issues related to environmental monitoring. Much of this focused on community mapping projects and “Participatory GIS” whereby the group uses the sensor technology to not only collect data but also create a local resource map contextualizing their findings.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines participatory mapping as: “A growing toolbox of techniques that can help communities make land use decisions. These maps go beyond the physical features portrayed in traditional maps; nearly everything valued by the community can be expressed in spatial terms and represented on a participatory map, including social, cultural, and economic features. The process used to create these maps is as valuable as the maps themselves. Participatory mapping is used for many reasons: to represent resources, health hazards, and community values; to gather traditional knowledge and practices; to collect information for environmental monitoring, or to find gaps in current data; to assist in conducting surveys or interviews; and to educate the community about local issues that affect their daily lives.”

On this particular trip I was resident in Shiprock NM (alternatively, in Summer 2010 the Pathways conference was held at Tsailé campus in AZ). Below is a brief outline of our activities and some photos from the workshops. (Download the full DEI workshop booklet).

First Workshop – Preparations (classroom based)
Activities: Introduction to participatory mapping and using basic sensors.
Purpose: Determining the objectives of the workshop, the purposes of community resource mapping in environmental study, and the role sensing can play in this process. Build a basic temperature sensor circuit.

First Workshop – Fieldwork (field visit)
Activities: Surveying and documenting field sites, gather temperature sensor data.
Purpose: Participants visit sites to gather detailed information and begin to understand the scope and environmental parameters of their community.

First Workshop – Wrap Up (classroom based)
Activities: Build the community resource map using data from first field site visit, sketching to build our use-case scenarios.
Purpose: Transcribe data onto physical maps. This begins to flesh out significant land features, social and cultural resources, and areas of interest in environmental surveying.

Second Workshop – Preparation (classroom based)
Activities: Discussion of air pollution, introduction to the RPI Community Sensor.
Purpose: Training on the portable RPI sensor units then allows participants to build their intended “use case” based on the constructed community resource map.

Second Workshop – Fieldwork (field visit)
Activities: Surveying and documenting “use case” field sites, deploying RPI sensors and collecting data.
Purpose: Participants return to their community sites having constructed the draft map. The more robust sensors offer environmental data and begin to stimulate and answer questions as well as fill in gaps from initial field site visits. This provides the opportunity to take a more critical look at the community resource map created in the second workshop.

Second Workshop – Wrap Up (computer-lab based)
Activities: Upload data from sensors to the RPI online system as well as site survey information. Conduct data analysis using online tools and finish by revisiting the community resource map.
Purpose: The online RPI system allows participants to view their findings in relation with other field sites as well as enable technical application of the sensor data. By revisiting the community resource map constructed in prior workshops participants develop broader understanding of the relationship between surveying, sensing, and environmental study.

Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals

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by Kirk Jalbert

Photos Credit: Kirk Jalbert

In late July 2011 I attended the Summer Scholars workshop hosted by the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) based out of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. This was a week long workshop attended by 30 middle and high school students from across the Navajo Reservation. As a vehicle for discussing climate change, myself and two visiting Navajo-based instructors focused on local impacts like sand dune erosion and water management issues. To accommodate, I changed out basic temperature sensor circuit done at DEI over to a soil moisture exercise with workshop materials to accompany the resulting soil-based data. For example, the following was used to introduce monitoring to the students,

Why is Measuring Soil Moisture Important?
Soil moisture information is valuable to a wide range of groups concerned with weather and climate, flood control, drought, soil erosion and slope failure, reservoir management, and water quality. Soil moisture is a key variable in controlling the exchange of water and heat energy between the land surface and the atmosphere through evaporation and plant transpiration. As a result, soil moisture plays an important role in the development of weather patterns and the production of precipitation. Soil moisture also strongly affects the amount of precipitation that runs off into nearby streams and rivers.

As was the case with the New Mexico DEI workshops earlier in the summer, participatory mapping was a major part of this workshop. Because of the difference in age group however (6th-12th graders as opposed to college interns) I also introduced a section on how to interpret and create topographical maps. This turned out to be crucial as we quickly learned many of the students had not thought critically about how maps were constructed.

The following are some photos from the ITEP workshops (all photos have full clearance). A portion of these were taken by ITEP staff (taken in the classroom and those with my calibrating the sensors).