Director Level Airborne Remote Sensing

  • Director Level Airborne Remote Sensing

    As part of my business development role at TCarta and as a side product of running a company primarily focused on mapping the seafloor from an office at 5,280 ft above seal level, I get on a lot of airplanes to meet with clients and attend conferences and cover quite a lot of ground.

    In my previous professional roles and in a phase when TCarta was much smaller, I wore many hats. I used to do a fair bit of remote sensing work, analyzing imagery or producing satellite derived bathymetry.  As the company has grown, my role has shifted tremendously into management and business development, and I no longer operate the equipment, software or consider myself a remote sensing SME.

    I do, however, have a habit of pressing my head against airplane windows to get a view of the earth below as I find this perspective of the Earth mesmerizing.--and in keeping an eye out the window, I occasionally see interesting things below, sometimes even places TCarta has completed work.

    This past week I had the view out the window from Denver to Florida, Florida into Kingston, Jamaica, Kingston into New York City, then onto Dublin, Ireland, Bristol, England, then finally back home from London to Denver.  It’s not worth calculating the time spent encapsulated in an aluminum can hurtling through the troposphere – or sitting on the tarmac, for that matter -- but I do try to spend the time as best I can, often either working or “thinking big” on the company, remote sensing, and business opportunities for TCarta.

    Viewing slices of these locations in combination with a bleary-eyed travel schedule sometimes makes topics click and similarities between disparate locations and experiences gel. 

    I do on the rare occasion find a bit of time between professional responsibilities to fit in a sight or local experience.  In this most recent jaunt, I managed a morning at the Imperial War Museum in London alongside Karl Lalonde, TCarta’s Chief Data Scientist and part-time WWI history aficionado. 

    The cannons out front of the museum were both awe-inspiring and terrifying to see, inferring the damage they likely did throughout their operations.

    Karl provided me with a more thorough and in-depth knowledge of the WWI theater better than the museum placards, images, and artifacts.  It wasn’t until we came upon the Aerial Campaigns sections that I realized I was viewing the inception of my profession. Perhaps it was too many time zones in too few days, but something dawned on me while I was looking through the fuzzy aerial images that comprised the fledgling efforts of airborne reconnaissance and, thereby, remote sensing.

    While I rarely scour through satellite imagery in my current role, I do take up a similar position to these early aerial imaging pioneers, pressing my head to the window of the plane and hoping for clear conditions with my phone in hand for the occasional picture.

    I had a view of Cape Canaveral, Florida  where coastal erosion is threatening the center of the U.S space launch industry and Bimini, Bahamas and the vast blue expanse of the Bahama Bank.

    Bimini, Bahamas

    Bahama Bank from 35,000ft

    Also visible from my airborne post as we landed in Kingston on a sunny day after heavy rains: the water quality of the harbor was apparent in the brown/black boundary and with visible collections of plastic washed into the harbor via storm drains. 


    Approach into Kingston, view of Kingston Harbour

    Flying over the Caribbean region, and with an eye tuned to sargassum spotting, the algae mats that are plaguing the region are intermittent but clearly visible and unmistakable when your eye is tuned to look for them!  Leaving Jamaica and flying over Abaco Island where hurricane Dorian recently devastated the landscape and community was a stark reminder of the impact of tropical storms on the lives of those below, visible from 32,000 ft. No pictures for that one.

    Landing in JFK airport in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens showed similar collections of visible plastic to Kingston.  Dublin was just plain dark and rainy, but the sun rose during my flight into Bristol and the views over the partitioned fields, hedgerows and 100’s of years of agricultural practices in England were glorious in the sunrise. Bristol is a beautiful hillside city surrounded by green. 

    The remnants of hurricane Lorenzo were off the port side of the London to Denver leg, while no longer a tell-tale cyclone, the cloud bank stretched as far as the eye could see at 35,000 ft until Iceland.

    Remnants of hurricane Lorenzo over the North Atlantic

    Greenland and the views I had hoped to see of the epic melting of the summer of 2019 were engulfed in clouds, but as we went over the Davis straight and towards Canada I caught sight of a lone iceberg off the coast of Baffin Island.

    Southern end of Baffin Island viewed from 40,000 ft

    Lone iceberg off Baffin Island.

    Sometimes I fly over areas where TCarta has done project work and get a sense of connectedness to the location, despite only visiting it via satellite imagery. From mapping urban heat index in Bristol to sargassum tracking in the Caribbean, post-hurricane disaster recovery work, and space based water quality monitoring in Kingston Harbour, satellite based traffic congestion maps of London, among many others, I am proud of the innovative remote sensing work being done across TCarta to address the environmental and humanitarian challenges at hand around the globe and back again.

    Coming full circle and returning to the office in Denver, I found, to my surprise after 4+ years in the making, the TCarta Cannon arrived on our doorstep from a talented metal smith artist in Key West, Florida, Kevin McPherson.  Not quite as lethal as the guns outside the Imperial War Museum but still makes quite a bang!

    How the TCarta Cannon came to be is a long and interesting story of a deep-sea mystery, and one I am happy to bore my seatmate with next time I fly!