An image of the greater Brisbane region taken on January 16, 2001. (Supplied: U.S. Geological Survey)
Seeking a bird’s-eye view of our world using a drone is an obsession for some, but a group of artists, scientists, game designers and composers have come together to go one better.
Every 16 days, a US Geological Survey Satellite hurtles through the heavens above our heads and takes a snapshot of Queensland.
Each pixel of the final image represents a 30 x 30-metre square of land.
When put together in a sequence, like a child’s flip-book, the images document patterns and changes impossible to track from the ground — the impacts of fires, floods and urban development.
And now the people of Brisbane can explore these changes thanks to visual artist Grania Kelly’s newest installation, created in collaboration with QUT’s visualisation and e-research team.
Grania Kelly’s World Science Festival installation shows Brisbane’s 30-year development story. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)
“We don’t notice change happening because we’re just too busy,” she said.
“But there are these satellites, far away in space, are watching and recording and documenting.
“You can actually see how your environment has been changing over time while you’re just living your life.
“The whole idea of the work was to give people that perspective.”
The installation’s name, Ground Truth, is a term used in science circles.
Andy Grodecki from the Queensland Government’s science division said it described the process in which scientists inspect changes to a landscape in person to ensure the pictures from space were interpreted correctly.
He said people had been able to access satellite images collected by the Government online previously, but this was the first time the public had access to 30 years’ worth of observations all at once.
Ms Kelly said the satellite imagery combined with sound effects and elements of play let people be the “eye in the sky” while bringing their own ground truth to the experience.
“This is a landscape a lot of us call home and I really want people to come to their own conclusions or feelings about that,” she said.
“We all have a say in that growth.”
Urban sprawl on show
The artist said it would be interesting to see the changes people picked out as they played with the installation.
“I find it fascinating that [Brisbane] has actually spread,” she said.
“It has not gone upwards like other capital cities, [it] just seems to have morphed and spread like this encroaching insect.”
QUT game designer Jack Kimberley said seeing decades of development flip through for the first time was “intense”.
“It was pretty mindboggling how much space got taken up so quickly,” he said.
“I used to live in The Gap which was originally a fairly outer suburb.
“You were on bushland if you were in the far reaches, but now it has extended a lot further.”
Mr Kimberley brought the elements of the installation together in a gaming engine that allowed for elements of interactivity.
Sarah Quijano worked with him to fine tune the user experience.
Ground Truth’s development team held a panel discussion about their work this week at ABC Brisbane. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)
How does the installation work?
A plinth containing instructions, a sensor and a green button stand in front of the screen showing a timeline of satellite images.
Ms Quijano said people could speed up, slow down and manipulate what they were seeing in different ways by waving their arm over the sensor in different directions.
“People are so comfortable these days with having control over technology; using those touch gestures to use devices,” she said.
“It’s really giving you the control of seeing those scenes.”
Ms Quijano said she hoped the project would help people understand the science behind it and what was changing in their own environment over time.
“It’s a great story to tell and a great story to be a part of.”
Ground Truth is located inside the lobby of ABC Brisbane on Grey Street, South Bank, until March 25.