News Stories


Published Nov. 3, 2011

He’s never set foot in Afghanistan, but he knows many of its areas like his own neighborhood. 

   Wilmington District geographer Spencer Roylance has an extensive background in aerial imagery analysis.  From his cubicle in North Carolina he’s able to access vast amounts of imagery of just about any location in Afghanistan.  What Roylance brings to the table for AED from Wilmington is the availability of imagery over Afghanistan.  With imagery resources in Washington, D.C., he can get all kinds of elevation and terrain data from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.  He notes the imagery is commercially available, but the imagery comes from the NGIA so there’s no cost to the Corps of Engineers. 

   "I’m able to process that data using the correct software and the correct methodologies to make it accurate,” he said. “The hydrolic engineers do their modeling to find out the locations, but I provide data so they can have the elevations to run their models on and the imagery to actually look at and see if it’s going to be viable or not.  I can look at agriculture downstream or see what’s upstream.  They wouldn’t be able to start without this information." 

   Roylance said he enjoys the mission; to find better ways of harnessing plentiful water in areas that seem barren, and to reduce flooding in areas that are prone to runoff from Afghanistan's rugged, mountainous, and snow-capped terrain.   

  “For the last three years I’ve been supporting the Afghanistan Engineer District with water resource assessments,” he said.  “By providing imagery support and elevation points we can do watershed delineation work for potential irrigation storage dam locations using elevation models, hydrolic models, and then verifying it with imagery."    

  Roylance said he first began working on five Afghan provinces.  It then became 16, and now on the final push he's down to the last 12 provinces in Regional Command North.  Another part of the mission is to find good sites to provide irrigation storage dams or what's commonly known as micro hydropower. 

"The information I gather goes back to Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).  The U.S. Agency for International Development then contacts s AED to do an assessment.  Multiple districts back here in the U.S.  share the workload because it's such a large area." 

   Roylance and other analysts can clearly see from their imagery how much acreage is going to be inundated by potential flooding, or how much cropland can be gained if conditions are right for building a dam.   If there are villages in the targeted location they can also tell how many people need to be relocated. 

   "We looked at four crossings on major river systems with several  different image dates for high flow and low flow. We also used hydrolic models and elevation to pinpoint good crossing locations for troops on the ground.  We've also done some hydrolic assessments on Forward Operating Base expansion where those FOBs were having drainage issues.  We then look back at dates to see construction progress to see what kinds of drainage issues are going into the FOB area." 

   His experience of looking for minute details from above means that it becomes easier to look for potential sites for irrigation.  He said there are a few key factors when looking for watershed areas. 

    "What is the health of the watershed?  Has it been denuded of vegetation by excess grazing by animal herds?  A healthy watershed will have lots of trees and natural vegetation.  And again, we look at contributing watershed for potential dam locations.  There are lots of variables that go into a site selection, and we get that through remote sensoring that combines height, elevation, and hydrolic models.  It's a multidisciplinary team of geographers, hydrologists, engineers and even the locals can provide useful information." 

  By bringing Western skills and technology to this war torn country it means that the Afghans should have a better chance at speeding up the production of crops that not only feed the local population, but spurs local economies with extra crops to sell. 

   "We’re trying to see instead of getting one crop a year they might be able to get three because of the availability of water.  My knowledge is limited since I’ve never been over there, but it’s nice to be able to provide a bigger picture for the people over there."