The People’s Republic of China’s creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS) represents a challenge for cartographers and geospatial scientists due to the rapid development of new geographic features in a politically opaque realm. The sudden construction of these islands enhances Chinese political control over the region at great cost to the existing environment, ecology, and natural habitat. When geospatial scientists must assess the impact of such features without direct access, creative solutions combining remote sensing, geographic information system, and environmental and social science can still provide powerful analyses. Indirect techniques are required to overcome such a data-scarce environment, as this study relies solely on the imagery of island feature construction in late 2017. The case study demonstrates a unique pedagogy of shadow analysis applied to structures on the islands, examining potential data gathering techniques for newly created features relevant to environmental impact assessments. This novel methodology is tested on radar arrays on three key islands in the SCS’s Spratly chain, examining political motivation as a driver for human interaction with the environment. While overcoming data sourcing limitations, the study quantifies tower heights and provides a method of measurement for constructed features on the islands. This study outlines the potential for geospatial science to create data where it is otherwise denied, providing narrative solution to the common problem of limited data or data access for the newest man-made geographic features.

You do not currently have access to this content.