Can you Dig it?: Identifying and Protecting Ancient Chacoan Ruins

Category: Land Cover Change & Disturbances
Project Team: Chaco Canyon Cross-Cutting
Team Location: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center at National Space Science Technology Center – Huntsville, Alabama

This map illustrates results from the Chaco sites habitat suitability model. Inputs included normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), slope, aspect, elevation, land cover, pre-European land cover, and Terra ASTER Global Emissivity Dataset. Image Credit: Chaco Canyon Cross-Cutting Team

This map illustrates results from the Chaco sites habitat suitability model. Inputs included normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), slope, aspect, elevation, land cover, pre-European land cover, and Terra ASTER Global Emissivity Dataset. Image Credit: Chaco Canyon Cross-Cutting Team

Authors:
Kelsey Herndon
Dashiell Cruz
Sydney Neeley
Ryan Schick

Mentors/Advisors:
Dr. Jeffrey Luvall (NASA at National Space Science Technology Center)
Dr. Robert Griffin (University of Alabama in Huntsville)
Dr. Tom Server (University of Alabama in Huntsville)

Abstract:

The Chacoan people flourished in northwest New Mexico between A.D. 850 and 1150. Today, remnants of their monumental architecture draw more than 40,000 visitors a year to Chaco Canyon National Park to experience the natural grandeur of the area and to learn about Native American history throughout the San Juan Basin. However, many Chacoan roads and communities are located outside the boundaries of the National Park. These unprotected sites are threatened by encroaching infrastructure associated with resource extraction, such as drill pads with requisite access roads and pipelines. Currently, the National Park Service (NPS), Binghamton University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Colorado Boulder rely on expensive and time-consuming ground surveys, imagery from Google Earth, and the Landsat series to identify the extent of Chacoan roads and houses. This project used Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) surface reflectance, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission Version 2 (SRTM-v2) digital elevation models (DEMs), Terra Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflectance Radiometer (ASTER) emissivity data, Thermal Infrared Multispectral Scanner (TIMS) data, Hyperspectral Thermal Emission Spectrometer (HyTES) data, Sentinel-1 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, and Sentinel-2 MultiSpectral Instrument (MSI) data to identify highly probable locations of unknown Chacoan sites. The goal was to determine sites at risk from infrastructure development and identify the spectral signatures of these ancient communities. Documenting Chacoan community signature profiles and determining which areas are at risk of being affected by encroaching development will help project partners to better understand the Chacoan landscape and better protect and preserve these ancient sites.

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