EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Observation and Reporting of Landforms and Landscape Dynamics by Citizens

Daniel Hölbling, Sabine Hennig, Lorena Abad, Simon Ecke, and Dirk Tiede
Daniel Hölbling et al.
  • University of Salzburg, Department of Geoinformatics - Z_GIS, Salzburg, Austria (

The observation and reporting of flora and fauna with the help of citizen scientists has a long tradition. However, citizen science projects have also a high potential for the reporting and mapping of landforms, as well as for observing landscape dynamics. While remote sensing has opened up new mapping and monitoring possibilities at high spatial and temporal resolutions, there is still a growing demand for gathering (spatial) data directly in the field (reporting on actual events, landform characteristics, and landscape changes, provision of reference data and photos). This becomes even more relevant since climate change effects (e.g. glacier retreat, shift of precipitation regime, melting of permafrost) will likely result in more significant morphological changes with an impact on the landscape.

In the project citizenMorph (Observation and Reporting of Landscape Dynamics by Citizens; we developed a pilot web-based interactive application that allows and supports citizens to map and contribute field data (spatial data, in-situ information, geotagged photos) on landforms. Such features are, for example, mass movements (e.g. rockfall, landslide, debris flow), glacial features (e.g. rock glacier, moraine, drumlin), volcanic features (e.g. lava flow, lahar, mudpot), or coastal features (e.g. cliff, coastal erosion, skerry). To design and implement a system that fully matches experts’ and citizens’ requirements, that ensures that citizens benefit from participating in citizenMorph, and that provides extensive, high-quality data, citizen representatives (mainly high school students, students, and seniors) actively and directly took part in the development process. These users are considered as particularly critical, sensitive to usability and accessibility issues, and demanding when it comes to using information and communication technology (ICT). In line with the concept of participatory design, citizen representatives were involved in all steps of the development process: specification of requirements, design, implementation, and testing of the system. The generation of a pilot was done using Survey123 for ArcGIS, a survey to collect data in the field, i.e. type and location of the landform, overview image and image series of the landform, and the content management system WordPress to create a website to inform, guide and support the participants. Throughout the survey ( and the website, different kinds of information (e.g. project information, guidelines for data collection and reporting, data protection information) are given to the participants. The final citizenMorph system was tested and discussed on several events with citizen representatives in Austria, Germany, and Iceland. Feedback from the tests was gathered using techniques such as observation, focus groups, and interviews/questionnaires. This allowed us to evaluate and improve the system as a whole.

The collected data, particularly the image series, are used for 3D reconstruction of the surface using Structure from Motion (SfM) and dense image matching (DIM) methods. Moreover, the collected data can be helpful for enriching and validating remote sensing based mapping results and increasing their detail and information content. Having a comprehensive database, holding field data and remote sensing data together, is of importance for any subsequent analysis and for broadening our knowledge about geomorphological landscape dynamics and the prevalence of landforms.

How to cite: Hölbling, D., Hennig, S., Abad, L., Ecke, S., and Tiede, D.: Observation and Reporting of Landforms and Landscape Dynamics by Citizens, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-13593,, 2020


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displays version 1 – uploaded on 02 May 2020
  • CC1: digital divide, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 02 May 2020

    Very interesting presentation indeed.

    My question is if a smart phone is needed for this, or if the GPS can be geotagged later on on computer as well.

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Daniel Hölbling, 02 May 2020

      Thank you! Indeed, next to using a smart phone in the field and uploading the photos directly (latter requires an internet connection) you can take photos in the field also with a normal camera and upload them later on your computer. We chose the browser-based variant for implementation, i.e. you can use various devices for filling the survey including uploading photos. 

      • CC2: Reply to AC1, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 02 May 2020

        That's great! Thank you!

        I saw an application to map a landscape by photos (along with the feelings when seeing that) at the Digital Landscape Architecture conference 2013, we even went on the field to try it out, but it required a smart phone.

  • CC4: Comment on EGU2020-13593, Joana Rodrigues, 04 May 2020

    Very interesting! 

    How did you publicize the initiative and how did you motivate participation?



    • AC2: Reply to CC4, Daniel Hölbling, 04 May 2020

      Thank you!

      We tried to publicize it particularly during workshops with undergraduate students, high school students, and a university course with elderly people mainly in Austria, partly in Germany. Moreover, we performed a workshop with a school in Iceland and promoted it during various presentations on several occasions. And we also hope that - if people have positive experiences - will tell others too. We tried to motivate the citizens to participate by using a language and explanation (e.g. audio files, introduction video prepared by citizen representatives) in an easily understandable way. We also provide supporting material (information cards about landform types) so that people can also learn something about their natural environment and landscape evolution when using it. If we use their collected data, e.g. image series for creating 3D models, they will be informed so that they know what happened with their data. However, this is a pilot solution at the moment and further improvements and promotions are needed in the future. We also need to find further ways to better motivate more people to participate. 

      • CC5: Reply to AC2, Joana Rodrigues, 04 May 2020

        Thank you for the clarification! Success for the next steps!

  • CC6: Comment on EGU2020-13593, Gáspár Albert, 08 May 2020

    Hi, Daniel! That's a great initiative! My question: the workflow seems to include modell processing with PhotoScan (MetaShape), which is time consuming, and in case of large workload it cannot be easily handled! How would you manage the processing if the app would go world-wide?

    • AC3: Reply to CC6, Daniel Hölbling, 08 May 2020

      Hi Gáspár!

      Thank you! Indeed, this is an important and valid point - thanks for raising this issue. Currently, most people collect single images and not image series. One reason for that is that we have to simplify and improve the functionality for collecting and providing image series. But, yes, when more image series will be provided we certainly need to implement automated processing workflows for generating 3D models, whereby also a quality check of the images needs to be done (this includes checking that no people are on the photos, etc.). We had some discussions about this issue, however, but we do not have a final solution on how to address and implement this yet.