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How is aerial photography used in Minnesota?

Natural color photo examples

This webpage provides examples of uses of natural color aerial imagery taken in Minnesota.

Click on any photo below to see a larger image.

Feature location

Mapping gravel pits and water towers

ECRDC gravel pit exampleECRDC water tower exampleThrough photo interpretation, the East Central Regional Development Commission used NAIP photos to locate gravel pits and neighboring homes for use in comprehensive planning and water towers for use in hazard mitigation planning. The photos saved the one-person staff a tremendous amount of time and travel.



Creating public information websites

Chisago Co. website exampleChisago County's mapping website presents a wealth of data online to the public. People can view numerous data themes and can choose a backdrop of either the NAIP photos or a topographic map. The photos provide a real-life view of the landscape that helps to put the other data, such as parcel boundaries, into context.


Displaying water well information

County well index website exampleThe County Well Index Online website lets the public find out more information about water wells in their area of interest. Website users can display water wells on a background of either NAIP photos, a topographic map or a shaded relief map, helping them visually identify well locations. They can use the map or a form to search the well log database for details about well construction and geology. The site was created by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and serves data maintained both by MDH and the Minnesota Geological Survey.


Displaying agricultural chemical spill investigation information

Agricultural chemical spill website exampleThe What's in My Neighborhood - Agricultural Interactive Mapping website from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture provides information about agricultural chemical spills that the department tracks. The website shows boundaries for the approximate extent of large spills and shows points representing the approximate locations of small spills and of old emergency sites; users can choose to display NAIP photos in the background to provide context for the boundaries and points. The website provides additional information about the accuracy of the locations as well as further details about both ongoing and completed investigations.



Surveying animal populations

Simulated deer surveyWildlife biologists with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources use NAIP photos during their aerial surveys of populations of free-ranging animals such as deer, moose, swan, ring-necked duck and bald eagles. DNR developed software to integrate GPS and wildlife observation data in real time displayed on top of the air photos, significantly reducing the time and money it takes to conduct a survey and manage the resulting data. For more details, see an article in the Minnesota GIS/LIS Newsletter, Spring 2006.

Combating West Nile virus and encephalitis

West Nile virus exampleThe Metropolitan Mosquito Control District uses NAIP photos to plan treatments to control mosquitoes, including those that may carry West Nile virus and LaCrosse encephalitis. Field staff locate wetlands and plan inspections of yards, parks and woods to find containers and tree holes that could harbor mosquito larvae; they then also use the photo as a guide when treating (handy when you're in the middle of a swamp!). Helicopter pilots use the photos to plan wetland treatment flights. Having recent photos also enables MMCD to update their maps to show wetlands in new developments and newly created retention ponds.


Monitoring oak wilt

Oak wilt exampleThe Forestry Resource Assessment Unit of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources uses NAIP photos as a mapping base for interpreting forest damage. 35mm color-infrared slides are projected on a movie screen at the largest possible scale; the staff interpret oak wilt damage visible on the slides and then record the outlines of the damaged areas by digitizing over NAIP photos. NAIP has replaced 1991-92 black-and-white photos for this purpose since NAIP is more recent and since the color provides more information.

Inventorying pipeline buffers

Pipeline buffer inventory exampleIn order to comply with U.S. Department of Transportation requirements, CenterPoint Energy needs to inventory at-risk populations and facilities within a specified buffer distance from high-pressure natural gas pipelines. The NAIP photos have greatly reduced the cost of this process by providing field inspectors with a current picture of ground conditions.

These two photos illustrate the extraordinary change that can occur over time. With only the 1991 photo shown above left, inspectors would have anticipated finding fields; with 2003 data shown above right, they know to expect a major highway and extensive housing developments. (Also see an article in the Minnesota GIS/LIS Newsletter, Summer 2004.)

Accuracy assessment

Locating parcel boundaries

McLeod parcel example 1McLeod parcel example 2McLeod parcel example 3This parcel in McLeod County was mapped from an old document. The distance between a section corner and the parcel appeared to be 492 feet. Registering the parcel layer to the NAIP photo (second graphic), revealed that the parcel boundary and the land use did not match. The "4" in the document should actually have been a "1". Once the distance was corrected to 192 feet, the parcel boundary appeared in the right place (third graphic).


Siting transmission lines

Transmission line siting exampleThe Department of Commerce is responsible for permitting new high voltage transmission line routes in Minnesota. Commerce staff has been relying on maps using NAIP imagery to show potential transmission line routes at public meetings; the maps help citizens quickly understand the proposal and provide feedback. The photos allow for a more complete evaluation process and reduce the chance of delay in reaching a final decision.

This example shows a portion of a project that will nearly triple the amount of wind power able to be exported from Buffalo Ridge in southwestern Minnesota. The project involves four new power lines that cross six counties in two states.

Evaluating a proposed highway bypass

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is evaluating a proposed highway bypass corridor in the Big Lake area in Sherburne County. To provide a clear picture of the bypass route, Mn/DOT created a map showing existing roads, parcel boundaries, and the proposed bypass on top of NAIP photos. For more details, see the Highway 10 Project Study.



Creating commercial property brochures

Real estate brochure exampleWelsh Companies, a commercial real estate firm headquartered in Minneapolis, uses NAIP photos to illustrate the location of properties it represents outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area. They have found that the photos provide a tangibility that no other marketing material provides short of physically visiting the site.


Emergency Response

Conducting search and rescue

Search & rescue exampleBeltrami County used NAIP photos to help search for a downed aircraft in a remote part of the county. Obtaining a GPS reading from flight control in Minneapolis, the GIS team pinpointed the location on the photos and evaluated the terrain around that site. Finding a recognizable location along a snowmobile trail, they got a bearing and distance from that point to the downed aircraft. The pilot and passengers were rescued unharmed.

Return to MnGeo's first-stop Aerial Photography page


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