UM ­-Dearborn students Ryan Keeling, Mitch Dziekan, Andrew Kelly, Kelly Kobberstad, and Chad Rhodes of the Geospatial Analysis and Mapping Certificate Program are investigating the Rouge River by comparing the current stream with how it looked in 1949.

Over the last century, the Rouge River has been modified by industrial, commercial, and residential areas. The river has been re­routed, straightened, and in some places, completely removed. By looking at historical aerial photographs and digitizing the stream using aerial photograph interpretation, the group was able to discover the Rouge River as it stood over sixty years ago ­ before much of the urbanization seen today had taken place.

DTE has a collection of historical aerial photographs of southeast Michigan starting in 1949. Unlike the imagery that you see in Google Maps, these are individual photographs that were taken by a plane of a small scene below. To cover the extent of the Rouge River, it took over 300 photographs which each had to be carefully referenced to a corresponding location. Kobberstad took the lead to provide spatial information to many of these photographs.

“We wanted to cover a good majority of the watershed, and to do that I knew it would require a lot of time and patience. The land has changed so much since 1949 that certain areas were hardly recognizable, which provided a considerable challenge. Usually main roads or old buildings are used as control points to match the landscape from the past to the present, but newer freeway interchanges, like I-­275 / I-­96, have drastically changed the aerial view. A certain degree of accuracy and precision had to be maintained in order to provide a usable map, and it took me several weeks to accurately georeference enough photographs to complete the task.”

Dr. Jacob Napieralski, a UM ­-Dearborn professor of Geology, challenged the group to develop a new method of analyzing the impact of urbanization on the Rouge River using Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. Using new stream data from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Association, the group was able to compare different parameters of the historical stream network to the one that is seen today. A variety of tools were used in the GIS program to compare the two stream networks and to identify the sometimes subtle differences between them. Many of these differences helped the group quantify the impacts that urbanization and industrialization have had on the Rouge stream network.

The group intends to present their research at the Association of American Geographers conference that is being held April 8th-­12th 2014 in Tampa, Florida.