Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Using geography to find Osama bin Laden

Geographers at UCLA have been busy using GIS analysis to narrow down where bin Laden might be hiding.
Here's the analytic synopsis:
Essentially, the study generates hiding-place location probabilities. It starts with "distance decay theory," which holds that the odds are greater that the person will be found close to where he or she was last seen.

Then the researchers add the "island biographic theory," which maintains that locales with more resources — palm trees for tropical birds and electricity for wealthy fugitives — are likelier to draw creatures of interest.

"Island biographic theory suggests bin Laden would end up in the biggest and least isolated city of the region," Gillespie says, one among about 26 towns within a 20-mile distance of Tora Bora.
That's according to the AP article. Of course this isn't definitive. One of the things that makes distance decay theory, used in wildlife habitat studies, not as easy when trying to find people is that this is a single person, and people tend to be able to hide in non-ideal environments. But it's an interesting exercise.
Hat tip to DirectionsMag for the link.