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Tomnod - Satellite Search

Review of Satellite Imagery

A website has been set up to allow the public to view satellite imagery of the area, and tag anything that might be of interest to search and rescue teams.


Please visit this site if you would like to help tag features from recent satellite imagery of the search area.

Here are some detailed instructions for this site written by Jamie Brandt.  If you have more questions you can email her at <jnbrandt@gmail.com>

There is a facebook group dedicated to analyzing the tomnod imagery and sharing tips, leads, etc.  See https://www.facebook.com/groups/591609827578590/ 
Please tag the images in tomnod.  If you want to discuss images or leads, do so in the facebook group.  Please do not send queries about tomnod or individual images to this website e-mail.  Leads developed by the image search are vetted and forwarded to searchers through other channels.

New Tool for Tomnod Search -

there is a cool new shiny tool for helping us with this Tomnod search: http://muddyheroes.com/TomnodSearchTracker/
Created by Tom Auga.
Type in the number of your tile, and it will show you the approximate area on google maps, or it can show you a topographical map of that area. It will also show you which tiles have been searched by S&R, and which have been determined to be uninteresting. Take a look!

Tomnod Source

Paraphrasing a message from Jamie...
Shay Har-noy, at Tomnod was responsible for getting the satellite images.  Shay read an article in the San Jose Mercury News about the crash and took the initiative to divert a satellite over Idaho to get the images.  A small miracle in this ordeal.

Image dates

An initial set of images was produced, on December 2, of an area north of Johnson Creek airstrip.  A new set of images covering a larger area and centered more around Johnson Creek was also provided.  The first two sets of images have the trees pointing left.  An even newer set of images, with much better clarity (and the trees pointing right) showed up around December 15.  For the dimensions of the area covered by the December 2 images, see the bounding boxes on this map:

Brief Overview of the tomnod 

tomnod presents satellite images, and allows members of the general public to examine them. Everyone looks at the same images, and can tag an item that they think shows something of interest. If multiple people tagged the same area, that alerts the search coordinators (who hopefully have more experience deciphering these images).

The initial image that shows up is just one of many hundreds of small squares. You can navigate through the various squares using your arrow keys or by clicking on the overview image on the right hand side of the screen. Some parts of the image are definitely difficult to explore - cloud cover and weather may have affected the image clarity when it was taken.

Tim's tips

I have found that in working with tomnod, it is helpful to correctly orient your screen.  I am viewing images on a laptop, and it is often useful to rotate my screen so that the trees are pointing "up".  The satellites are often taking images at sideways angles to the landscape, making deciphering the surface features in the images difficult.  In many of the images I've examined, what look like trees in the tomnod image are actually the shadows of the trees.  The "real" trees are easily seen by rotating the image about 110 degrees clockwise, for the first set of images, and about 70 degrees counter-clockwise for the second set of images.

One point of confusion is that there are actually 2 different tomnod sites - one with 'www.tomnod.com' in the link and one with 'new.tomnod.com' in the link.  The 'old' site (with 'www' in the link address) shows map numbers. These numbers are the ones being discussed in the facebook group.  You can switch from the old site to the new site, by just changing the 'www' to 'new' in your browser location bar (and hitting enter to go to the new site).
Note that as you move around in the image area on the 'new' site, the map number does not change.  (It would be nice if there was a way to get the map number from the 'new' site, but I don't know of one.)

Also, it is often useful to compare images from Google Earth or Google Maps (satellite view) with the tomnod site (to see if you're looking at a natural feature like a snow-covered rock, vs. something unnatural)  There is a trick for converting from a map number to latitude and longitude. In the link in your browser location bar, change the word 'challenge' to 'api', and hit enter.  You'll get an error message from the tomnod site with the latitude and longitude of the image tile you were looking at.  You can put the latitude number and longitude number into the Google Maps or Google Earth search fields, and they will take you to that location (obviously, with not-the-latest satellite imagery).

Finally, with regard to letters spelled out in the snow or trees - unless you see "SOS" in a clearing, with the letters less than 100 feet tall, you are probably not looking at something useful.  In this situation, people do not spell out their names or initials, and they put their signal in a clearing where it can be seen from the air, not in a wooded area.

Estimating Size

Make sure to use the size key to estimate the size of the objects you are looking at.  Sometimes the images are distorted, but in general the size key should give you a good indication of the size of the object.  For comparison purposes, I have created this picture which shows Johnson Creek airstrip in Google Earth and in tomnod, at the same scale.  There are buildings circled in pink as reference points, and in the summertime Google Earth image, there are small planes about the size of Dale's plane, pointed to by blue arrows.  The missing plane would be about the same size as these in the tomnod imagery (if intact.)

Make sure you view this image at full size to see how it compares with the tomnod images on your screen.

Starting at a known location

If you want to start tomnod at a specific location, and move from there, here are a few links to known areas:

Johnson Creek airstrip: http://www.tomnod.com/nod/challenge/idsar2013/map/31557

Stibnite Airport: http://www.tomnod.com/nod/challenge/idsar2013/map/36205

Riordan Lake: http://www.tomnod.com/nod/challenge/idsar2013/map/114077

Tomnod Results


  • Jamie Brandt
    From my contact at Tomnod, I just received this Google Earth document displaying all of our tags, ranked by likelihood of importance in the left hand column. Because you are viewing the tags in Google Earth, you can also determine the exact GPS coordinates of the image. To date, about 3500 people have participated in the search, and Tomnod is working to capture additional satellite images with better clarity. He said the initial imagery was captured on Monday after they received news of the missing plane.
Map of Google Earth displaying all of our tags. This file was from December 10, and doesn't include any tags from after that date. We are working on getting an updated tag list from tomnod.


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Tim Bird,
Dec 7, 2013, 9:18 PM
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Tomnod CrowdRank Export.kmz
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Tim Bird,
Dec 10, 2013, 8:36 AM
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Tim Bird,
Dec 11, 2013, 12:04 AM