GECEO in Malawi

Author: Marije Schaafsma

On the 10th of July, the final dissemination of the Fellowship of Marije and the large ASSETS project, both funded by ESPA, took place in Zomba, Malawi. Exciting work by Southampton’s PhD students Miriam Joshua on Malawi’s water policy, and Alison and Fiona Simmance on fisheries in relation to food security in Malawi was also presented.

Members of parliament, ministries, national and local NGOs and communities involved in the research attended the meeting, and emphasised the need for ecosystem-based approaches for food security and poverty alleviation. The research by Southampton’s academics demonstrated how people in rural Malawi are highly dependent on ecosystem services, and how the use of these resources varies between men and women and young and old people.

GECEO-researchers are continuing with research in Malawi. Ilda Dreoni is currently doing fieldwork in Namizimu forest, looking at the preferences of community members for different benefit sharing mechanisms under forest co-management. And for the mens sana in corpore sano idea, we hiked up Zomba Mountain!

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More projects are in the pipeline, with Marije continuing work (also ESPA funded) on the possibility of including an environmental dimension in multidimensional poverty indices – to inform work of the Poverty-Environment Initiative, together with WCMC and UEA. And thanks to the Faculty’s Interdisciplinary Research Fund, Becks Spake, Jane Catford and Marije will join forces to investigate sustainable management of the Elephant Marsh in Southern Malawi, recently granted Ramsar status.

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Climate Smart Agriculture in Malawi

Author: Marije Schaafsma

Just over 2 months ago (already?!) I came back from Zomba. This was my third trip to Malawi for my ESPA Fellowship, linked to the ESPAASSETS project and locally hosted by LEAD SEA. After the data collection trip among rural smallholder farmers in 2015, it was time for follow-up: did the respondents of my survey approve of my conclusions? Would stakeholders be interested in my results? And I was also going to organise a scenario workshop on the question: Does climate-smart agriculture support river basin management in Zomba District?

I left the UK with some apprehension, not sure what I would find after the massive El Nino-related dry spell that hit Malawi this planting season. Farmers rely heavily on rainfed agriculture, but the rains came two months late and were intermittent once they finally arrived. Food shortages have led to increased food prices, making it even less accessible to the poorest people. Some people have received cassava and sweet potato vines, which grow relatively fast.

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My research assistant and I were met with surprise when we came back. Apparently many researchers fail to report back and disseminate the results of their studies to the very same people that were willing to participate in (yet another!) survey. The most exciting discussions we had were on gender and youth issues. Whilst women own the farm land and do most of the cultivation, husbands usually make the decisions on what to plant, when to sell, and what to do with the money – disappointing for, and disempowering, their wives… Young people are faced with ever smaller land holdings, disappearing forests and rivers that dry up – some are heading to South Africa in search of greener pastures. Younger people complained about the fact that they are usually the last to receive anything when the fertiliser coupons are distributed, when land is distributed, when lucrative jobs are allocated…

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Reframing my academic research question (a comparison of methodologies) into a policy relevance question (climate smart agriculture) resulted in interesting conversations with development practitioners, forest and agriculture specialists and policy makers. All are looking for the silver bullet to solve the linked issue of sustainable environmental management and poverty alleviation. My research on the suitability of financial incentives was met with both criticism and support. Criticism – because just injecting money into household systems without training in business skills does not lead to development. Support – because indeed money is needed but hard to come by, and short term benefits of agroforestry, conservation agriculture and other techniques are often negative or minute at best, one of the reasons that their scaling-up and adoption rates are limited.

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In the last week of my stay, together with the Forest Research Institute Malawi, I organised a workshop on the suitability of climate smart agriculture for river basin management under different scenarios of climate change and economic growth. A group of more than 20 experts and practitioners from Zomba and national level participated in debates around the trade-offs between different objectives. Poverty specialists emphasised the need for (adult) functional education and empowerment before introducing new techniques; agricultural experts stressed the benefits of drought resistant seeds; foresters argued for the commercial benefits of indigenous trees. It was obvious that the most difficult trade-offs were found when environmental management and poverty alleviation were incompatible. Indeed, the main issue of my research…

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January’s Research Presentations

January’s research presentations were given by Andrew MacLachlan and Tracy Adole.

Andrew’s presentation provides an overview of his research into urban expansion in the Perth Metropolitan Region, Western Australia, using the Landsat archive.

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Tracy’s presentation outlines her research into the vegetation phenology of Africa.

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Environmental Livelihood Security in Fiji

Author: Ellie Biggs

A journey back to the South Pacific islands of Fiji. The first time I visited Fiji was travelling on my gap year, touring the outer Yasawa islands. Back then I didn’t take much note of the surroundings beyond the outstanding scenery, cultural traditions and backpacker tourism. In November 2015 I had the opportunity to return with our research team, exploring the main island of Viti Levu to build networks with communities and stakeholders, and help deliver a workshop at the University of the South Pacific.

Arriving into Nadi (pronounced Nan-di) international airport seemed a familiar affair; a little haphazard but with a warm welcome in the arrivals hall from a singing Fijian trio. From Nadi we drove north to Lautoka, a base town for us to access the Ba River catchment. After a day of following local customs visiting the district council office to request permission to visit village communities, we were on our way. We visited three communities within the catchment with a purpose of building rapport to allow our researchers to stay with them to collect social survey data. Many of our research team had never visited Fiji so we also used this trip to gain a broad geographical understanding of the region. Field site visits were primarily to support our Asia-Pacific Network funded project, which is investigating post-disaster recovery processes in flood affected communities.

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First stop on our site visits was Nawaqarua village, a coastal community which has been affected by multiple devastating floods. In 2012 a quick succession of flood events meant the community’s adaptive capacity was severely depleted for response to a second severe flood as they’d not had time to recover from the initial flood inundation event. Nevertheless, resilience seemed strong with perseverance to restore livelihoods. Mitigation for future flood disasters has been aided by various NGO groups with rebuilding of housing and the installation of a flood warning gauge on the river which activates a siren when water levels reach a critical threshold.

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Next we visited Votua, a village also located in the lower reaches of the Ba River catchment and prone to isolation during flood events. Livelihoods in Votua are highly reliant upon fisheries for both food security and income generation via fishing rights. However, inhabitants seemed highly concerned with potential detrimental implications of a mining company recently gaining land access to mine iron sands. Crop diversification was discussed as a mitigation method for ensuring food security within flood periods, such as intercropping with plants that would fruit above the flood level. They were also concerned by extensive land loss through rapid river bank erosion and flood inundation.

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Lastly we stopped into Navala. This village is located in the upstream reaches of the catchment and is marketed for tourism purposes as a model traditional Fijian village. Inhabitants here were used to foreign visitors and the children seemed delighted by having a minibus to run around. Flooding was not stated as a great concern; rather, extended drought (enhanced by the 2015-16 El Niño event) and energy infrastructure were specified as factors strongly impacting their livelihoods.

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Through visiting the catchment we also observed various environmental issues which could contributing to increased flood risk, such as dredging of waterways, removal of mangrove forest in the coastal plains and deforestation in the upper catchment. Additionally, exploitation of natural resources from outside companies may have a detrimental effect on community’s environmental livelihood security.

Through our work on advancing the conceptual understanding of Environmental Livelihood Security in Southeast Asia and Oceania we are now seeking to build case study applications to put our theories into practice. We are applying our framework to two main locations: the Ba River catchment in Viti Levu, Fiji and Prek Prasab in Krati Province, Cambodia. Collecting data, we will populate our framework indicators and hopefully enable trade-offs and synergies between water, energy and food sectors to be identified for assisting stakeholders and policy-makers with promoting sustainable livelihoods and long-term sustainability of environmental resources. In particular, we are interested in the value and use of geospatial data for contributing to generating suitable datasets for assessing environmental livelihood security; this formed the discussion topic for our workshop with academics and stakeholders held in Suva.

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Presentations by Marije Schaafsma and Helena Sykes

Each month, members of GECEO give a short presentation on their research activities.  This month, presentations were given by Dr Marije Schaafsma and Dr Helena Sykes.

Marije’s presentation outlines her research on the assessment and valuation of ecosystem services.

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Helena’s presentation provides an overview of work she carried out at Natural Resources Wales, involving the identification of bare soil areas in the Llanddowror catchment for flood risk management.

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RSPSoc, NCEO and CEOI-ST Joint Conference 2015

This year, RSPSoc, NCEO and CEOI-ST were brought together for the first time, with the aim of joining the major communities representing Earth observation in the UK. The focus of this year’s conference was the European Commission and ESA’s Copernicus Programme, with the conference theme “Earth Observation in the Sentinel Era”.

The RSPSoc, NCEO and CEOI-ST Joint Conference, hosted by Geography and Environment at the University of Southampton, took place on the 8th to the 11th September 2015. With almost 300 delegates from 15 different countries, 120 oral presentations, 70 posters and 6 keynote speakers, the 2015 RSPSoc conference was the largest to date!

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On the 8th September, a range of workshops and meetings were held for delegates. This included; the Geological Remote Sensing Special Interest Group workshop using ENVI software and datasets focusing on the recent disaster in Nepal, the Land Cover Land Use workshop / brain storming session focused on the Copernicus Land Services (http://land.copernicus.eu/), 3D Laser Mapping Workshop ‘Terrestrial Laser Scanning – Making the most of Waveform’, NCEO Meeting: Divisional Directors and Capability Leaders, Conservation and Indigenous Communities (ConICom) SIG Meeting and the UKSpace EO Committee Meeting.

The first social event, the icebreaker reception, took place at the Ageas Bowl on Tuesday evening. This was a great event for the delegates to begin networking and to relax after the first day of the conference. The event included a tour of the cricket ground and memorabilia, and Dr Andrew Kelly, the Managing Editor from Taylor and Francis, gave an early career research presentation entitled ‘Publishing in Academic Journals: Tips to help you succeed’. This brief talk enabled PhD students and early career researchers to ask questions and discuss publishing in a relaxed environment.

Conference Inauguration and Keynote Presentations

The conference was officially opened on Wednesday 9th September by Professor Judith Petts, CBE, the Pro Vice Chancellor of Research and Enterprise. With the first keynote presentation following from Professor John Remedios, Director of the National Centre for Earth Observation, University of Leicester, who spoke on ‘Building on the success of Earth Observation science in the UK’.

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The keynote presentations were spread across the conference programme. Including Dr Frederic Baret (INRA-EMMAH/ UMT CAPTE)  ‘How to optimally exploit S2 for agricultural and environmental monitoring’, Beth Greenaway (Head of Earth Observation UK Space Agency) ‘The road ahead for Earth Observation’, Prof. Stephen Briggs (Senior Adviser, Earth Observation, ESA) ‘The role of satellites in climate observations’, Professor Jan-Peter Muller (Head Imaging Group Mullard Space Science Laboratory)‘Earth and Mars: learning from each other in the Sentinel Era’ and Amanda Regan (Earth Observation Future Missions Division, ESA) ‘Earth Observation in the Sentinel Era’.

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Exhibitor and Poster Session

The conference was sponsored by four organisations; Airbus Defence and Space, Taylor and Francis, Microsoft Ultracam and Ordnance Survey. Alongside the sponsors, there were also 14 exhibitors. The exhibition took place in the marquee outside Garden Court, which housed the conference registration desk and posters. Refreshments and lunches were split between the two venues, including the NCEO sponsored drinks reception at the poster and exhibitor session on Wednesday afternoon. This session devoted time to the exhibitors and enabled them to give a brief pitch on their products and services, as well as maximising the time for the 70 posters to be viewed and discussed with the authors. The delegates also were able to enjoy the exceptional September sunshine in the landscaped Highfield campus.

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Evening Cruise Wednesday 9th September

The evening social event, a cruise along the Solent, was a great trip enjoyed by all. Relaxing in the evening sun, watching the sunset and taking in the views of Southampton coastline created a beautiful backdrop for discussions, as well as a great event for photo opportunity whilst enjoying dinner and drinks.

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Conference Presentations 

Across the conference, 16 sessions took place with 120 oral presentations. The sessions included presentations on: NCEO in the Sentinel Era, Global EO, Atmosphere and climate, Landsat and Sentinel-2 data exploitation Energy, water and climate, Vegetation characterisation and wildfire impacts, Land surface characterisation, Microwave remote sensing, Data assimilation theory and applications, Time-series analysis, Fine resolution data and photogrammetry, Big EO data, Land carbon emissions and atmospheric chemistry, Land cover mapping, Forestry and New Sensors.

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Taylor and Francis Reception and Annual Conference Awards Dinner Thursday 10th September

The Annual Conference Awards Dinner took place at the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, with welcome drinks reception sponsored by Taylor and Francis. The annual awards ceremony celebrated the triumphs and contributions of RSPSoc members. This year the RSPSoc Award was received by Professor David Bowers for his services to remote sensing. Two GECEO members received the student awards; Dr Robin Wilson, the PhD award, and Andrew MacLachlan, the MSc award. The Cordicella String Trio played throughout the dinner, with the RSPSoc tradition of a ceilidh coordinated and performed by Cottage Industry and a lively barn dance.

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The conference then drew to a close with RSPSoc Chairman’s half hour and the final lunch of the week. The 2015 conference was a great success, successfully joining the three organisations of remote sensing from the UK with high quality presentations, keynotes and memorable social events.

To view the full conference programme, please click here.

Graduate School Conference

11th – 12th June 2015

The Graduate School Conference is an opportunity for all Geography Postgraduates to present their research to the department. This is a great opportunity for all, not only do all Ph.D students gain experience in presenting to an audience in a relaxed environment, but it is a chance to discuss research with academic staff and peers.  All 2nd and 3rd year Ph.D students give an oral presentation, with 1st years presenting posters. All research groups participate in the graduate school conference within their selected sessions. This year GECEO members Gillian Mountford, Sarchill Qader, Matawee Srisawat, Julio Pastor Guzman and Lingquan Zhou gave oral presentations. Poster’s were presented by Joseph James Abram, Tracy Adole, Margherita Fanchiotti,  Andrew Charles MacLachlan, Alex Stokes and Anais Vermonden.

Oral Presentations

Gillian Mountford kicked off the GECEO presentations at the conference, with her talk entitled ‘Sensitivity of satellite-derived land surface phenology to variation in spatial and temporal resolution’.

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Sarchil Hama Qader presented his research on the stresses and impacts on crop production in Iraq.

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Matawee Srisawat presented her research entitled ‘Suitability of medium resolution optical data for crop monitoring in Thailand’.

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Julio Pastor Guzman presented his research on ‘Remote sensing of mangrove forest phenology’.

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To finish the GECEO presentations and the first day of the conference, Lingquan Zhou presented his research entitled ‘Dynamic vegetation over China mainland’.

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Poster Presentations

Tracy Adole – A systematic review of vegetation phenology in Africa

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Andrew MacLachlan – Exploration of the current state, pressures and the potential risks of urban expansion in the Greater Perth Region of Western Australia

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Tristan Berchoux – Coping with natural hazards: A spatio-temporal analysis of livelihood strategies in rural deltas

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Margherita Fanchiotti – Modelling community resilience to tropic cyclones in the Mahanadi delta, India

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Joseph Abram – Feedback loops, tipping points and spaghetti

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