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TerraWatchers crowdsource project examines damage to archeological sites

TerraWatchers is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing web-based, crowdsourced satellite image monitoring and overwatch tools for critical missions related to current events. The TerraWatchers platform was built by Stephen Savage and staff at the Geo-Archeological Information Applications Lab at Arizona State University.  The public can participate in TerraWatchers citizen science efforts, and get involved in its missions by registering on the TerraWatchers website.

In June 2015, TerraWatchers asked GISCorps to assist in testing their platform through an activity which examines the impact of military activity and looting on archeological sites in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. There are thousands of archeological sites in this area, and it is not well documented how many have been looted or commandeered for military purposes.

During June and July of 2015, sixty-six GISCorps volunteers used the TerraWatchers website to examine over 2,500 archeological sites for disturbances.  By the end of the project on July 23, volunteers had examined 98.4 percent of the sites and made 9,062 observations about the condition of the sites.  Volunteers also commented on website design and offered suggestions for improving it.  TerraWatchers appreciated the quick response time of GISCorps, and ready access to a pool of GIS professionals.

After the volunteer input phase was over, staff at TerraWatchers did preliminary quality assurance on the volunteer observations. It was found that the quality of volunteer work varied, suggesting that more intensive volunteer training and real-time volunteer oversight is needed. Some types of disturbances at archeological sites are difficult to detect without better resolution imagery or more highly-trained analysts.

This TerraWatchers-GISCorps project provided a proof-of-concept for the TerraWatchers mission, and TerraWatchers is now evaluating the results more thoroughly, and plans additional crowdsource work in the future after making modifications to their strategy as indicated by this first phase.