Grid-based mapping: A method for rapidly determining the spatial distributions of small features over very large areas

Ramsdale, Jason D.; Balme, Matthew R.; Conway, Susan J.; Gallagher, Colman; van Gasselt, Stephan A.; Hauber, Ernst; Orgel, Csilla; Séjourné, Antoine; Skinner, James A.; Costard, Francois; Johnsson, Andreas; Losiak, Anna; Reiss, Dennis; Swirad, Zuzanna M.; Kereszturi, Akos; Smith, Isaac B. and Platz, Thomas (2017). Grid-based mapping: A method for rapidly determining the spatial distributions of small features over very large areas. Planetary and Space Science, 140 pp. 49–61.



The increased volume, spatial resolution, and areal coverage of high-resolution images of Mars over the past 15 years have led to an increased quantity and variety of small-scale landform identifications. Though many such landforms are too small to represent individually on regional-scale maps, determining their presence or absence across large areas helps form the observational basis for developing hypotheses on the geological nature and environmental history of a study area. The combination of improved spatial resolution and near-continuous coverage significantly increases the time required to analyse the data. This becomes problematic when attempting regional or global-scale studies of metre and decametre-scale landforms. Here, we describe an approach for mapping small features (from decimetre to kilometre scale) across large areas, formulated for a project to study the northern plains of Mars, and provide context on how this method was developed and how it can be implemented.

Rather than “mapping” with points and polygons, grid-based mapping uses a “tick box” approach to efficiently record the locations of specific landforms (we use an example suite of glacial landforms; including viscous flow features, the latitude dependant mantle and polygonised ground). A grid of squares (e.g. 20 km by 20 km) is created over the mapping area. Then the basemap data are systematically examined, grid-square by grid-square at full resolution, in order to identify the landforms while recording the presence or absence of selected landforms in each grid-square to determine spatial distributions. The result is a series of grids recording the distribution of all the mapped landforms across the study area. In some ways, these are equivalent to raster images, as they show a continuous distribution-field of the various landforms across a defined (rectangular, in most cases) area. When overlain on context maps, these form a coarse, digital landform map.

We find that grid-based mapping provides an efficient solution to the problems of mapping small landforms over large areas, by providing a consistent and standardised approach to spatial data collection. The simplicity of the grid-based mapping approach makes it extremely scalable and workable for group efforts, requiring minimal user experience and producing consistent and repeatable results. The discrete nature of the datasets, simplicity of approach, and divisibility of tasks, open up the possibility for citizen science in which crowdsourcing large grid-based mapping areas could be applied.

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