Slovak Kite Aerial Photography

J.S. and S.W. Aber
Juraj Janocko
Stanislav Jacko

Table of contents
Introduction High Tatrys
Liptov valley Pieniny Klippen
Plavecsky Hrad Tokaj wine
Silica karst Hornád valley

Introduction to Slovakia

In May and June 2016, we had a chance to visit Slovakia for an extended stay as part of the ERASMUS+ faculty exchange program with the Technical University of Košice (TUKE). Our exchange partners were Profs. Juraj Janocko and Stanislav Jacko. One aspect of the exchange was to conduct kite aerial photography (KAP) of landscapes and geological features. Slovakia is a country of mountains and valleys located in central Europe. Once part of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split peacefully in 1993 following the end of communism and breakup of the Soviet empire.

Taken from
CIA World Factbook.

We had done KAP in Slovakia before, first in 1997 and again in 2000 with a basic kite and simple film-camera rig at a few sites—see preliminary results. We returned to Slovakia in 2007 with much better kites and digital-camera equipment and acquired KAP at several sites in Slovakia and nearby southern Poland—see Tatry Mountains (2007).

KAP travel

Traveling overseas with various cameras, kites, radios, batteries, and other equipment is complicated in today's security-conscious world. Furthermore many airlines have restricted the number and weight of baggage. Thus, we packed carefully taking only essential equipment, tools, spare parts, batteries, rechargers, and so forth. We decided on two camera rigs, one automatic and the other radio-controlled, and two kites, a large rokkaku for light and moderate wind and a small delta for strong wind.

KAP equipment for Slovak faculty exchange. Cargo box and camera case (left). The cargo box contains all kites and associated items, tools, and spare parts. It weighs about 48 pounds (~22 kg) for checked luggage. Camera case (right) has two complete KAP rigs and accessory equipment. This is carry-on luggage weighing only 9 pounds (~4 kg).

Another issue faced when traveling abroad is different electricity. In the U.S. and Canada, standard outlet electricity is 120 V and 60 Hz. But this varies greatly in other countries around the world ranging from 100 V/50 Hz (Japan) to 240V/50 Hz (Kenya)—see global electricity. For western and central Europe, the standard is 230 V and 50 Hz. Most portable devices (laptops, tablets, cameras) have transformers that can accept a range of voltages and cycles, but this still leaves the problem of diverse outlet designs.

Typical power-outlet sockets and plug for Slovakia along with some adapters for American plugs. American plugs include types A and B; most of Europe utilizes types C, E and F—see plug-and-socket types.

KAP weather

Two weather ingredients are essential for successful KAP, namely wind (10-25 mph) and sun. Late spring is the wet season in Slovakia, especially in and around the Tatry Mountains, so many days were not suitable because of rain and/or heavy cloud cover. On those days, we scouted areas for potential sites to conduct KAP. Other days had sun but too little wind, and one day had violent gusts that broke down many large limbs and whole trees. An intense low-pressure system moving across central Europe, including Germany and Poland, generated wind in excess of 100 km/h (>60 mph).

Left: two large limbs fell across the road in front of our car during a wind storm. A smaller branch hit the car while driving on this same road, but did not cause any damage. Near the village of Vazec between the High and Low Tatry mountain ranges. Right: cleaning up shattered and uprooted trees in Warsaw, Poland a few days later.

In spite of these highly variable weather conditions, we did have some good days, and we mangaged to acquire kite aerial photographs at eight sites in eastern Slovakia in the vicinities of Poprad, Prešov, and Košice. Our primary target region was the Carpathian Mountain system that arcs through northern and eastern Slovakia. In addition, we visited various sites in the southeast close to the border with Hungary.

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Northeastern Slovakia

High Tatrys

The Vysoké (High) Tatry mountain range is the crown jewel of Slovak natural monuments. The peaks are capped by granite thrust up during a tectonic collision that created the western Carpathians. Alpine glaciation carved the mountain range into steep horns, ridges, and deep valleys, and glacier melt water flushed sand and gravel onto the foreland slope south of the range. Most of the High Tatrys are protected in Tatránsky národny (national) park, and the region is a magnet for tourism and outdoor sports including bicycling, hiking, and skiing. The following KAP was conducted under nearly ideal conditions near Spišska-Bela located southeast of the mountains.

Overviews looking toward the Tatry Mountains (left) and across agricultural fields (right). The mountains are part of the larger Carpathian Mountain system of central Europe. Highest peaks are in the clouds and exceed 2600 m (>8500 feet). Agricultural fields in the foreground are developed on fans of glacial outwash gravel.
Left: two types of agriculture. Large fields represent cooperative farms that date from communist times. Smaller fields are privately owned. Right: long narrow stripes, knowns as "noodles," are each owned and farmed separately. A single noodle may have 16 or more owners. This pattern of farming is a legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
KAP conducted from a fallow and weedy field next to a water-treatment plant (left), and close-up shot of KAP team bringing the camera down (right). The kite-line reel is secured to the car's towing ring in the bumper.

Panoramic overview of Tatry Mountains and foreslope.
Near Poprad; assembled from two wide-angle shots.

Liptov Valley

The High Tatrys in northern Slovakia and the Low Tatry range in the central part of the country are separated by a broad valley known as the Liptov Depression. All are parts of the western Carpathian mountain system. As the depression subsided, it was filled with 1000s of meters of Eocene and younger sediment eroded from the adjacent uplifting mountains. Land use in the Liptov valley is mostly agricultural, and it is a major transportation corridor connecting eastern and western Slovakia. At this site, we had quite light wind and partly cloudy sky.

Panoramic view looking eastward in the Liptov Valley. Low Tatry mountains to right; High Tatry mountains in far left background; village of L'ubel'a left of center.
Near Poprad; assembled from two wide-angle shots.

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Pieniny Klippen Belt

The western Carpathians are divided into inner (southern) and outer (northern) portions. The boundary between inner and outer portions is marked by the
Pieniny Klippen Belt. This belt consists of Jurassic and Cretaceous sedimentary strata that are strongly deformed and mixed into a kind of megabreccia or mélange that represents the suture between colliding tectonic plates. Softer shales and sandstones are eroded down, and resistant limestone stands out as isolated hills and ridges that form hogbacks in places.

Our kite launching site was on the side of one such limestone hogback, which created a strong local updraft. Under partly cloudy conditions, our pictures are mosaicks of sunlit and cloud-shadowed patches on the ground. Beside the village of Kamenica, near Prešov.

Overview of the Pieniny Klippen Belt (left) and close-up shot of limestone hogback within the klippen belt (right) near the village of Kamenica. The limestone ridge stands conspicuously above the adjacent valley.
Left: kite flyers operating from the steep side of a limestone ridge. Note small boxes in upper left corner. Right: close-up shot of bee hive boxes on top of the ridge.
Ground views of bedrock deformation. Limestone breccia mixed with red shale (left) exposed in a quarry and strongly folded limestone (right) revealed in a cliff.

Plavecsky Hrad

Many castles were constructed in Slovakia during the Middle Ages; these castles are typically situated on prominent hills next to major rivers. Plavecsky Hrad is one such castle that was built of stone around the year 1294 on a hill above the Poprad River. It served for border protection of the Hungarian kingdom. Later it was owned by the Paloczay family, who turned it into a residential palace. It burned in 1856 and thereafter became a ruin.

The castle is currently undergoing partial reconstruction, and we were invited to conduct KAP. We set up on a nearby hill next to a small chapel. Wind was somewhat erratic, and our KAP session was cut short when clouds moved over the site. Close to the town of Plavec, near Prešov.

Left: overview of Plavecsky Hrad at lower center. Small village of Podzámok on left and larger town of Plavec in right background beyond the Poprad River. Right: close-up shot of the castle ruin which is undergoing partial reconstruction.
Left: overview of the town of Plavec, which is located inside a large meander loop of the Poprad River. Castle ruin on left side. Right: large sand-and-gravel pit filled with water on the floodplain of the Poprad River valley.
Left: kite flyers beside the ruin of a small chapel on the hill above the castle. Right: close-up shot of the chapel ruin which contains the grave of the person who owned the castle.
Flying over high-voltage transmission lines is always risky (left) and requires good wind, skill, and close attention to the kite at all times. Small tractor cutting hay (right) beneath the transmission lines.
Ground views of castle undergoing partial reconstruction (left) and interior of the tower (right). Thanks to Martin Sárossy for invitation and permission to conduct kite aerial photography at this site.

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Southeastern Slovakia

Tokaj wine region

The Tokaj region is famous for a special white wine based on the
Furmint grape variety. Most of region lies in Hungary and a small portion is in the southeastern corner of Slovakia. Vineyards are spread across southern slopes of the Zemplinske hills near the Bodrog River. Growing of grapes goes back many centuries, but the origin of the Furmint variety is uncertain. Strong wind and hilly topography made for turbulent flighting conditions, but with help from our Slovak colleagues we had success along the Tokaj Wine Road at two sites between the villages of Mala Trna and Cernochov, near Košice.

Vineyards extend across southern slopes of the Zemplinske hills (left) near the border with Hungary. Individual fields form intricate patterns on the landscape (right). Note small tractor in lower right corner; it is pulling a sprayer between rows of grape vines.
Vertical shot (left) and ground view (right) showing alternate row scheme. Every other row is bare for tractors, and intervening rows have plant cover (clover and grass) for walking. Rows are spaced approximately 2 m apart, just wide enough for a small tractor to pass through.
Tokaj Viewing Tower overview (left) and close-up shot (right). The tower is a Swiss-Slovak project constructed in 2015 to resemble a traditional wine barrel. The top platform stands 12 above ground level, which allows panoramic views of surrounding hillside vineyards.

Silica karst terrain

Thick limestone and dolostone covered with sinkholes and filled with caves is known as karst terrain (kras in Slovak). Slovakia has substantial karst areas and many thousands of caves. The village of Silica is located on a karst plateau (Silická planina) next to the border with Hungary. Wind was quite light, barely sufficient for KAP from a hill top overlooking agricultural fields. We had good sun as a thunderstorm approached, so we had to work fast.

Panoramic view northward. Expansive grain fields in the foreground.
Slovenský Kras (karst) forms the ridge in the far background.
Near Košice; assembled from two wide-angle shots.

Kite flyers working on a hill top beside a field of grain (left). View over large grain field (right). Note closely spaced rows of grain and distinct tracks left by sprayer.
Close-up view of grain field (left). Notice red and blue spots which are flowers of corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and cornflower (Cyanus segetum). Ground view (right) of flowers and grain.

Hornád River valley

The Hornád River south of Košice forms the border between Slovakia and Hungary. The valley has a wide floodplain, and our interest stems from repeated flooding during the past several years. Major floods took place in 2005 and 2009. Flood water follows shallow channels across the bottomland and, in places, has eroded large gullies. Our first attempt to conduct KAP at this site was spoiled by insufficient wind, but we did have a nice grill cook-out while waiting for wind that did not come. We returned two days later with excellent wind and partly cloudy sky.

Left: looking across the Hornád valley with Hungary in the background. Trees line the channel of the Hornád River, and small buildings are water wells. Right: view south toward Štrkovisko Kechnec, an artifical lake on the border with Hungary. Flood water flows into this lake via the channel at lower right.
Left: flood water follows two well-defined channels (C) across the bottomland, and the road acts as a small dam. Right: downstream from the road, deep gullies were eroded as water spilled over the road. Kite flyers near scene center.
Two views of small gullies that have formed within the past few years. Such gullies develop by rapid headward erosion across the tilled soil. These gullies did not exist in our 2007 KAP survey of this vicinity.

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Special thanks to TUKE students who assisted with KAP at several
sites: Igor Duriška, Marta Prekopová, and Barbora Zákršmidová.

All text and images © J.S. and S.W. Aber

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Last update: June 2016.