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Imaging the Earth by Kite

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Google Earth Blog founder and editor Frank Taylor packed some high-tech toys for his five-year round-the-world sailing trip aboard the ship Tahina. Among them: A camera suspended beneath a kite for taking high-definition aerial photographs.

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While in the San Blas archipelago off Panama’s Caribbean coast in March, Taylor flew the kite above tiny BBQ Island—so-named for the tradition of Monday evening potluck dinners for folks cruising in the vicinity.

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Taking the photos “was not a simple prospect because we had to keep the string from getting tangled in the palm trees,” writes Taylor on his Tahina Expedition blog. “I had to get way out in the water to get the kite over the island. We even used the dinghy to take the end of the string out further to get the whole island.”

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The effort paid off, however, with a cloud free composite image that includes the entire island and some of the surrounding waters.

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Stewart Long helped stitch the photos, which Google has now added to its base-layer imagery of the region on both Google Maps and Google Earth.

Taylor has also used his kite-cam to image Petite Tabac in St. Vincent and the Grenadines—an island known, if not by name, to fans of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. And Long is collaborating with Jeffrey Warren of the MIT Media Lab's Center for Future Civic Media on Grassroots Mapping, a collection of participatory mapping projects that use balloons and kites to collect high-resolution aerial imagery of "communities in cartographic dispute." See what they're doing to document the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands.

Photos by Frank Taylor and David Tryse

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