A group of scientific researchers walked 970 miles of coastline in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in seven years - all to create a monster database.
They photographed about 6,000 locations from the air and from the ground. Then, they sat in offices and tried to make sense of all the data they collected. They are still working on it.
The project got a public airing at the 4th annual Glacier Bay Symposium in Juneau, which ends today with speeches on social issues and marine mammal research in the national park.
Glacier Bay scientist Lewis Sharman said the shoreline database, which is not yet accessible on the Internet, allows a computer user to point at a map segment along the bay shoreline and unlock a treasure trove of ecological data and photographs of that location.
He showed the crowd of at least 250 at the symposium how they could drill down from a map of the bay to photographs of individual rocks covered with crustaceans.
The need for information about the bay's shoreline was driven by the fact that it's the national park's most vulnerable resource, Sharman said.
The shoreline is where nesting birds, bears and marine and intertidal creatures all come together in one place.
It also happens that the shoreline is where most humans spend time in the park, said Mary Kralovec, a federal scientist who presented results of a long-term survey of backcountry visitors to the park.
"Almost all of the park's coastline is used by (private) backcountry users for campsites," she said.
However, recent negotiations with the state of Alaska resulted in park officials rescinding the seasonal backcountry limit of 1,870 visitors in 2004.
"We never even nearly approached those use limits," Kralovec said.
Glacier Bay Superintendent Tomie Patrick Lee said she hopes to have another science symposium in six years.
"It gives everyone a chance to see what (scientific research) is being done in the park and what are the findings," she said.
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