Published: July 1, 2020

This article is part of a series highlighting the graduate students selected for the 2020 Provost’s Fellows for the University Libraries

Sarah Jaffe, a PhD student in CU Boulder’s Environmental Studies program, is a 2020 Provost Fellow with the University Libraries. Jaffe has developed a workflow for the libraries to transform the Earth Sciences & Map Library’s historical aerial photos into a massive collection of geographic information system (GIS) data for researchers.

Sarah JaffeThere are thousands of historical aerial images in the Map Library’s collection. Throughout the years, library specialists have taken care to preserve, digitize and assign the metadata Jaffe has used as a launchpad for this project.

Jaffe manufactured a Python program that calculates the coordinates for all four corners of an image. It uses pre-assigned metadata that includes the geographic coordinates for the center point of each image. Then, Jaffe deploys a GIS package to bake into the image the derived locational information.

“With this project, my job has been to make these images digitally accessible and easily manageable online,” said Jaffe. “While I'm thrilled that we were able to find code that georeferenced these specific images, the code should work with any image!  This ability to re-use this process is one of the perks of having open source code and sharing it, no matter the purpose of needing a georeferenced image.”

Jaffe’s research interests include human-wildlife conflict management, the ecology of animal migration and GIS analysis. She examines natural and anthropogenic variables to understand how land use and land cover impact migratory wildlife patterns and develops reproducible tools to visualize past, present and projected animal behaviors.

Earth Sciences & Environment Librarian Phil White has overseen Jaffe’s work on the fellowship project. He says that thanks to her work the libraries now have tools and methods to expand how researchers may use this collection.

“I’ve been impressed with Sarah’s persistence,” said White. “While we had an exemplar project that served as a model, that earlier work by CU Boulder geography researchers used the R language. Sarah developed these methods in Python—there was no example to follow. She has done great work developing the workflow and code from the ground up. This has been a challenging project, but she has persisted and kept a positive attitude throughout.”

Jaffe says her work as a Provost Fellow has improved her coding skills and that sharing the open-source code will support the transparency and reproducibility of future research. She hopes that these tools and resources will help White in his future work with students and faculty who are looking to use geographic and spatial data to enhance their research. 

“I hope anyone will be able to georeference these images just by pressing a button,” said Jaffe. 

Sarah and Phil would like to acknowledge all of the hard work of others who contributed to the completion of this fellowship project. They would like to specifically thank the Map Library staff, the Library Digitization Lab, the Library Metadata Services, Kyle Rodman, Tom Veblen, Jenny Palomino, Tim Dunn, Michael Dulock and Fred Shumacher.

The Provost’s Fellows for the University Libraries program is generously funded by the Provost, the Graduate Teacher Program, the Friends of the Libraries and the Dean of the Graduate School.