Skip to Local Navigation
Skip to Content
California State University, Long Beach
CSULB Geospatial Research and Mapping (GRAM) Field Program
Print this pageAdd this page to your favoritesSelect a font sizeSelect a small fontSelect a medium fontSelect a large font

Daily Blog for Kerry McMahon

Day 26 – Presentation Day

Posted on June 29, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

I was a complete bundle of nerves this morning, practically making myself sick, so I just kep reminding myself that soon enough, the presentations would be over and I’d look back at all that nervousness and laugh. And I did.

They presentations went really well. I cannot even narrow down the best ones because they were all so good! I was blown away by the speaking skills of the students. Everyone, even if they didn’t get the results they were expecting, did an EXCELLENT job of reporting their research. I feel like I learned so much from each and every person here, it’s going to be tough to top this anywhere in my life.

My presentation went well, I think. I felt like I may have enlightened people as to how severe the erosion problem is here.

Roadside erosion in the Ka'a'wa Valley

After presentations , we left the ranch and had a great dinner at a place that boasted beautiful tropical gardens and a Koi pond. It was nice to have some quality one-on-one time with some members of the group.

Back at the barn, we celebrated our last night together and began wrapping our heads around the reality that is tomorrow. One of our members, Scott, had to leave last night, so we sent him off with our best goodbyes, hanging over the barn railing.

I cannot really express how I am feeling about all of this… somewhat too difficult to put into words. But I can say for sure this is by far the best thing I have ever done in my life, and I’ve done a lot.


Day 25 The final touches

Posted on June 29, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Today was spent in the barn working on our Powerpoint presentations. I think I am making this harder than it needs to be. Because I evaluated erosion features in the Ka’a’awa Valley, I also feel the need to understand a little more about what erosion is and how it works. This seems to be a continuing challenge working in remote sensing in GIS. We have amassed a toolbox that allows us to analyze spatial problems, but we often don’t have expertise in a particular subject matter, nor the access to subject matter experts.

Well either way, I feel like I did at least some justice to addressing erosion, though it will require future work and research to address the issue entirely. I am extremely nervous about tomorrow’s presentations, I’m not sure why. I tend to get overly nervous, but as long as I know what I am talking about, I do fine. I probably cause myself much undue stress over it.

Classification of erosion features in the Ka'a'awa Valley

With all of the work we had to do, we still managed to head to the beach to wind down after a long day. Moon rise was not as impressive tonight, but it was still pretty. I worked on coconut tossing and sand racing. Also improved my palm tree climbing skills.

It’s really starting to hit me how much I am going to miss everyone and miss Hawaii. We have done so well as a group, it’s actually hard to believe. Leaving these guys is really going to be tough. I have really gotten so used to everyone and even the barn! It’s probably going to be a big adjustment going home.


Day 24

Posted on June 27, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

As usual, I failed to accomplish as much as I would have liked to and as much as I should have… ArcMap locking up, barn distractions and the call of the moon rise at the beach.

I am learning very quickly that I just don’t work well in a room with others. When I am at home during the semester, I always do better when I lock myself in my office alone. But making the best of things, I worked on another classification for 2000, and also finalized my map product in ArcMap. I added a few other layers, but I need to be careful drawing conclusions simply because I want to see connections. I plan on instead just sticking to the plain facts and quantifying the erosion and making suggestions for intervention.

Tonight a group of us walked to the beach and WOW was it worth it. I suppose I could have spent the whole night in front of the computer, but as my productivity begins to wane, watching the over the horizon was simply one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. So well worth walking away from the rigors of academia.

With only two days left, I am beginning to feel a little sad. We have formed some strong friendships and lifelong bonds. I will, however, be happy to return home, so that will make it all okay.

Day 19

Posted on June 22, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Another productive day, although my brain shuts down post 8 p.m. No worries though, I am on track with everything I need to do. Today I covered the remainder of the north side of the valley, collecting GPS points of fences, cattle guards, cattle, and of course, erosion patches. The ones I saw today were much larger than in the back of the valley. I was amazed at how many appear to be along road cuts.

My classification is going well. My ground points match up nearly perfectly with my eCognition classification. I am really getting excited about my results. Dr. Lee looked over my project proposal and he thinks I am on the right track, so that certainly means I can breath easier. 

I was exploring the imagery tonight and noticed a large, eroded line along the top of one of the ridges. If I want to strengthen my argument that these erosion features are human or cattle induced, I’ve got to see what is causing that patch that I can see in the imagery. This may mean a long and strenuous hike, but it’s all in the name of collecting solid data.

Unexplained erosion

Jeff Williams, of Williams Aerospace made it out to fly today, and the professors also had good luck with their test flights. Even though I don’t know too much of the technology that goes into the drones and UAV’s, it is still always interesting to watch.

Everyday here is better than the last. Tomorrow we get to celebrate yet another birthday, this time Cole, who will turn 22. Sunday is a much-anticipated day off, plans TBD.

I am continuously blown away by how well we get along and how much knowledge is still being shared among the students. We are all still learning everyday, which is of course a good thing!

Still not tired of this view

Day 18 – The planning process

Posted on June 21, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Today was another great day. I had to fight the temptation to get back out in the field to collect points – as that iss really where I’d rather be  than at the barn all day, but I know that I needed a day to plan and get organized about how to proceed with my project. I built my empty geodatabase that will house all of my GPS points and essential information. It is always cool when something that I learned in school becomes applicable in practice. So I created about five featureclasses and added domains to make populating my attribute table much easier. Now with a clear idea of what will go on my map, I can take more effective field notes when I collect GPS points.

I also starting toying around with my imagery. Although the original plan was to use ERDAS ( which I apparently pronounce in a very east-coast way), my new favorite software, eCognition, was beckoning. I was able to tweek some of the parameters and use the OBIA to grab out the bare earth patches that I am trying to measure. So I am crossing my fingers that it continues to go well, though I may still try ERDAS in addition.

To further my belief that the cattle are exacerbating the erosion situation in the Ka’a’awa Valley, when I zoom out in the imagery, to areas that are undisturbed by humans or cattle, there appear to be no bare patches. This should help strengthen my analysis.

I will have to finish this post earlier than planned… my computer is being swarmed by bugs!

I am going to try to cover a significant portion of the valley tomorrow.

Day 17

Posted on June 20, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Today I woke up with too many ideas in my head, which was frustrating, so I decided to stay behind dig deeper until I could solidify something. Finally, around 10 a.m., it just all clicked and I finalized my proposal and began making a plan for the field.

My basic plan is to  identify substantial batches of bare earth that are believed to be accelerated erosion caused by cattle, road cuts and other unnatural phenomenon. These features tend to occur on steep slopes, and once they begin to form, they have the tendency to move and grow at a fast rate. I will map the current extent of these bare patches using Worldview imagery and I will also attempt to pull these patches out of historic imagery to see if I can identify where new ones have occured in the past ten years.

Since I plan to walk the valley to map these locations, I will also collect points where I see cows and cow excrement, as well as noting fence and cattle guard locations, in order to create an overlay of the main areas where cattle are present. This will help strengthen my argument that these erosion features are not natural. I also plan to include information regarding slope and soil type to see I can predict the locations of potential future erosion sites. Once I have identified these areas, I would like to be able to identify the patches of greatest concern and provide recommendations for where erosion control should occur.

So step one of this was to start collecting points, although I also need to practice using ERDAS to make sure I can also see theses areas in the satellite images. I plan on doing that tomorrow.

I really relished being out in the field alone today. I stuck to my plan with few distractions and was able to accomplish exactly what I set out to do. A few lessons learned too! I definitely need to plan more ahead about how I will take field notes. There we so many things that I noticed once out in the field that I will need to include in my notes in a more organized manner, e.g. hillside vs. roadside erosion, size of patch, soil type, cow presence or not, etc…

So I have to give a shout out to the “best TA ever,” Briton, for helping me today to clear my head and refocus my ideas.

Oh yeah, and Paul flew an oblique flight today and FINALLY got the beach!



Tomorrow’s plan: So much work to do! Must crack the whip on getting everyone’s metadata so we can finally be done building the geodatabase. Then I need to get my GPS points off the Garmin and figure out a plan for building my own geodatabase. I also really need to repeat the ERDAS lab so I can start my supervised classification of the old and newer imagery. I really hope these things show up! The big problem is that most of them are on steep slopes so from the satellite images, the entire extent of the surface area is lost.


Opportunistic mushroom chilling on a cow patty


Day 16 – Geodatabase construction

Posted on June 19, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Today we had a morning discussion about what direction we want to take our research. Everyone seemed to have really good ideas, although we all seemed to need the professor’s help in refining those ideas.

I am torn between working on mapping invasive ironweed and looking at the impact of cattle movement and activity and seeing if I can detect change in erosion features over a 10-year period. Unfortunately, in this kind of work, we are limited by the available data quality. If I am not able to detect eroded features in the 2001 imagery, I cannot accurately assess whether there has been substantial change. Even though the current imagery is of much better quality, matching up to lower resolution imagery may make my calculation inaccurate.

I am still leaning in that direction, so I will spend tomorrow seeing what I can find in the imagery. If that doesn’t pan out, I will have to begin exploring the ironweed idea, which is to map ironweed on the ground, and then try to see  – using satellite imagery – if I can detect what environmental factors ironweed prefers. The goal would be then to be able to create a map of all of the ironweed in the VAlley (provided those factors are consistent) and then when mitigation efforts become necessary, the ironweed will be easier to find. I am hopeful that by end of day tomorrow, these decisions will be ironed out. It seemed like we had so much time and now we are on the downhill countdown. I work best under pressure though, so I trust my ability to come through in the clutch.

After our morning discussions, I presented the almost-finished geodatabase. Yesterday, I stayed at the barn to build the geodatabase that serve as the container for everyone’s data collection. This was a great learning experience for me, as repetition seems to be the best way to retain information. So after importing  numerous shapefiles, making changes to attributes, adding and deleting fields and organizing the structure, I felt like my skills had drastically improved.

All of the other students were so helpful in helping me get their data organized and in a form that would work well in the database. Everyone continues to work hard and help make the common product complete.


Day 14 – Humbled

Posted on June 17, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Sorry for the MIA blog yesterday, but here’s why:

Kayak trip on the North Shore


I can honestly say, today I was more impressed than I have been in a long time. My fellow REU students, one after another, delivered excellent presentations of their data, procedures, and maps that will go into our common product. It was so impressive to see how much time and effort people put into their projects and the production of meaningful results is an added bonus. Hearing what other people had done really gave me a sense of what is going on in the valley in the areas that Julianna and I were not able to reach. The presentations seemed to give everyone of a better sense of where to head with their research, and the professors provided a little more insight into what needs to be looked at and what is beyond our reach.

I have to say, I am a bit disappointed in my work, but it certainly will give me cause to work harder in the next few days. We really struggled to learn eCognition, but I do not regret that time investment. I think now that we both feel more comfortable with the software, we can be an asset down the road to help other team members. But I really would have liked to have done more with our classification, perhaps a comparison in Erdas or at least playing around with more powerful functions in eCognition.

I still get a little nervous with public speaking, a skill that has taken me years to get better at. Overall though, I am happy with the classification we produced, but it needs more time to be a product I feel comfortable using. I would like to generate at least 50 sample points to create an error matrix to see how we did.


Bare ground classification in the works

With today’s arrival of Dr. Becker, our research team is now complete. Tomorrow we will be discussing our research plans, so I really need to refine my ideas into something meaningful.

After a full day of sitting, we trekked the roundtrip of 5 miles to 7-eleven to get some exercise. It is amazing how different some of the food is here. In the aisle that normally houses 99 cent bags of gummy bears, we found similar style bags of dehydrated “mixed seafood,” which I have to say was intriguing. I settled on a frozen pineapple pop, which turned out to taste like a stick of butter. It ended in the trash and I headed home.

Looking forward to some morning flights. I am also hoping to take part in creating the collective geodatabase for our common product. As dumb as some of this stuff makes me feel sometimes, I know I can handle that!

Day 12 – Archaeologist for a day

Posted on June 16, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Today I completely shifted gears and helped the archaeology group with their explorations. What a nice change from collecting road lines! Jessica, Julianna, and I tackled the dense vegetation to look for more archaeological features along the edges of our study area. We found several sets of parallel rock features that ran from the base of the mountains, down to the road. If I were to guess, I’d think they were used as water channels, to contain the water that would run down during and after rainfalls. They were all lined up with indentations in the cliff faces where water would likely collect. Perhaps people tried to contain the water, or at least keep it channeled neatly for a place where they could gather water for their use.

These rock features became very predictable as we noticed that the vegetation in between each set of parallel walls was different from surrounding vegetation. The trees in between the walls were also bent in the direction of water flow, indicating that water likely traveled down those channels.

Rock channels

So far, every day here in the valley has led to some new discovery. The excitement hasn’t worn off yet.

Back at the barn, Julianna and I really got going on our eCognition classification of bare ground features. I am so happy that I am learning this program. It is seriously my favorite software so far. Although it can be extremely frustrating, every time we figure out a new command that works, it’s a small and welcome victory. We plugged away and are getting quite good at choosing the correct commands. I know we will have the hang of it soon.

Tonight at midnight, James turned 21, so of course we left a little room to celebrate. Happy Birthday James!




Day 11 –

Posted on June 14, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Not much to report on today. I wasn’t feeling too hot so I stayed back at the barn and did some necessary shower scrubbing and then worked on data.

My Pentax took flight again, courtesy of Paul, who shot this aerial video:

Our common products seem to finally be coming together, though we have much work to do and a lot of questions to ask. Michelle, Emily, Briton, and Paul have all been so helpful through this whole process. It’s remarkable how much patience they manage to have with us.

The night wound down with most of us playing pool and then “Apples to Apples,” which became quite competitive at times.

Looking forward to another day in the field.

Computer lizard kept me company

About Kerry McMahon

I am a senior at Towson University in Maryland studying geography and GIS. I am mainly interested in combining GIS, remote sensing and cartography. I am specifically interested in the anthropogenic impact on our environment and hope to use my skills and knowledge to help solve problems related to that impact. I live in Baltimore and love spending time outdoors as much as possible.