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Science  23 Sep 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5743, pp. 1991
DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5743.1991b

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FIRST PLACE: Autumn Color, Estonian Bog

James S. Aber and Susan W. Aber, Emporia State University

With its intricate patterns within patterns and striking colors, the winning photograph bears a distinct resemblance to a fractal. But scale back—to about 150 meters above the ground—and the sinuous landforms of Estonia's Männikjärve bog begin to reveal themselves.

In the peat bogs of east-central and southwestern Estonia, autumn works a change in the color scheme: Cotton grass turns gold, hardwoods in surrounding forests turn orange and red, and pine trees remain silvery green. The bog water, in sharp contrast, stays an acidic brown. Geologists James Aber and Susan W. Aber of Emporia State University in Kansas recognized the potential beauty of the landscape when he was collaborating with Estonian colleagues to study the glacial geomorphology and geotectonics of the region. But to capture it, he knew he'd need to get off the ground—or at least, his camera would.

The scientists used a conventional digital camera in an unconventional setting: They attached it to a kite and operated it from the ground like a radio-controlled model airplane, an early type of remote sensing that has been around since the 19th century. James Aber has used the technique for 8 years and has even taught it in courses at Emporia State on aerial photography.

Kite photography “gives us a scale and resolution that are difficult to achieve in other ways,” James Aber says. The kite flies between 50 and 150 meters above the ground, too low for a conventional airplane and too high for a boom or tower structure.

The photograph was striking, not only because it creates a mood that matches the time of year and the subject of the image but also for its unique technique, says panel of judges member Gary Lees.

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