Short news: Afghanistan, barrier islands, Thai-Cambodian border dispute

  • Afghanistan I: The Wall Street Journal reports on how US forces in Afghanistan are ramping up the use of airdrops to provision troops in the field, so as to minimize the use of IED-infested roads:

    The air crews prepare for each mission by studying a three-dimensional Google Earth image of the line of approach, giving them a moving, cockpit-window view of the ridges, rivers and villages they’ll see as they near the drop zone.

    I wonder if the US military uses Google’s publicly available imagery dataset, or if they use Google Earth Enterprise and roll their own — because the publicly available imagery is at least 7 years old, and Afghanistan is conspicuously absent from the now semi-monthly updates.

  • Barrier islands: Researchers studying barrier islands have found that Google Earth’s imagery, especially if only a few months or years old, is much more accurate than the official maps and databases that are meant to keep track of them. They’ve now taken to scouring Google Earth’s publicly available dataset to “discover” over 600 such islands:

    “Basically nothing beats Google Earth for getting the whole story. Google Earth has opened up a whole new world for those who study physiography of the globe,” Pilkey said.

    Just as with people looking for archaeological discoveries or meteorite craters, the economics of free is compelling. It costs nothing to check unlikely places, which would never have been accessible when satellite imagery cost thousands of dollars to commission. As a result, the researchers discovered the world’s longest chain of barrier islands, off Brazil’s northeast coast, where they thought the tidal differences prevented such islands from forming.

  • Afghanistan II: This week, photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington was killed in Misrata will covering the conflict there. A few months ago I saw his much-acclaimed war documentary RESTREPO, about US troops setting up a remote forward base on a valley spur in Nuristan, surrounded by insurgents. Hetherington and fellow filmmaker Sebastian Junger embedded themselves with the soldiers over the course of a year in 2007. It’s a strong, compelling film.

    The documentary often refers to local place names and shows the maps used by soldiers, while the panoramic shots are distinctive enough that I thought it might be possible to identify exactly where the base was in Google Earth. Others on Google Earth Community had already beaten me to it. The precise location of Korengal Outpost (the main camp) is here, while OP Restrepo, the forward base, is here. Google Earth’s imagery is from 2004 and not of the highest resolution, but the digital elevation model is quite detailed, and provides very useful context when watching the film — which I highly recommend. (It’s available on Netflix)

  • Thailand-Cambodia border conflict: As you may have read, yet another temple on the Thai-Cambodian border is cause for a deadly military escalation. Called “Prasat Ta Khwai” or “Ta Krabey”, the temple straddles the spur that defines much of border between these two countries, and lies about 140 kilometers to the west of the much better-known Preah Vihear temple, which is the disputed site most often in the headlines these past few years. This temple is almost completely obscured by jungle coverage, but the link above and Geonames both triangulate to the correct place:
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