Dr. Matt Nolan is a geophysicist and pilot who uses aerial photography to make maps. Earlier this year, he was flying over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when he noticed a pattern on the tundra.

The pattern was the result of tracks left by heavy equipment doing seismic testing for oil and gas. He noticed them just outside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but similar tracks may soon appear inside the refuge as the Trump administration has begun selling oil and gas leases within the refuge that may be developed as soon as December of 2018.

As heavy equipment rolls across the tundra, it crushes the mosses, sedges, shrubs, and fragile topsoil. These tracks remain for decades; we can still see today the signs of tracks from oil & gas exploration in the refuge from the 1980’s. Tracks can alter how surface water flows, and even accelerate permafrost thawing.

Dr. Nolan is in the process of creating a map of the area in the refuge where the oil & gas leases are being sold, using a technique called photogrammetry, which combines tens of thousands of digital aerial photographs, to form a 3D map of the land surface.

For more on Dr. Nolan’s work, see his web site: http://drmattnolan.com/

For more about the impact of oil & gas on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge see this article in the NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/03/climate/alaska-anwr-seismic-testing-tracks.html and this article.