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Social networking helps scientists boost landscape data

Social networking helps scientists: researchers turn to Instagram and Flickr to boost their landscape data banks.

When you go hiking in the mountains, travel overseas, or visit a pristine beach, your photos may be more than just a memory of a great time. According to one expert, they’re becoming valuable research data.

Researchers are turning to Instagram, Flickr, and other social media sites to identify which destinations tourists feel are most important, according to Dr. Jordan Smith, director of the Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism at Utah State University. Smith is also an assistant professor the university’s Department of Environment and Society.

Dr. Smith – along with Boris van Zanten, Koen Tieskens and Peter Verburg of Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, as well as Derek van Berkel and Ross Meentenmeyer of North Carolina State University – took to the social media websites to identify and map the locations shown in the photos that were being shared.

This helped them find what they have dubbed “hot spots” – outdoor spaces that tourists most want to visit. That data can be used to help prioritize landscape management and determine funding, Smith stated.

The team’s findings were published in the early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online on Oct. 31, 2016.

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