Ian Lockwood

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Solar Developments in the OSC Neighborhood

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DP2 Environmental Systems & Societies Experimenting with a 15 W PVC panel.

DP2 Environmental Systems & Societies students experimenting with a 15 W PV panel.

Like other parts of the planet there are significant developments in solar energy generation in Sri Lanka. The costs of photovoltaic (PV) panels have come down and net metering allows small operators to export their power to the grid built and maintained by the Ceylon Electricity Board. After many years of reading about the solar revolution it has been thrilling to have a colleague install a system at her house. Encouraged by these developments, OSC’s DP Environmental Systems and Societies (ES&S) students are investigating the basics of PV-generated energy. It has given me a chance to brush up on power and energy concepts as are applicable when talking about the generation of renewable energy.

My personal interest in energy goes back to my father Merrick Lockwood who has been working with alternative energy projects since the late 1970s. His significant work was on a biomass-fueled Stirling cycle engine that produced power to run a rice mill. You can about the joys and tribulations of his work in Bangladesh in How I Built a 5HP Stirling Engine (it is an intriguing account narrating the Rice Husk Energy project though the title was not Merrick’s choice). Stirling engines were a major focus point but Merrick has always been interested in an array of conventional and non-conventional energy technologies. I have strong childhood memories of PV cells, batteries, meters and literature on renewable energy in the wonderful clutter of his office and workshop. Earlier this year my alma mater KIS installed a 2 kw set of panels though the tireless work of Class of 1952 alum Dr. Clarence Maloney. His efforts helped get me thinking about solar energy as a viable option.

Sri Lanka sits in an enviable location to tap into renewable energy. Because it is so close to the equator (6°-9.5° N) it is bathed in insolation (solar irradiance) throughout the year. Sri Lanka is blessed with high rainfall in its “wet zone” and here it taps into large and medium-sized hydroelectric schemes which generate about half of all the electricity use in a year. Sri Lanka’s coastal areas offer great potential for wind power generation (something being explored in the Kalpitiya region). Biomass fuel provides for much of the country’s cooking needs in rural areas and if managed correctly can be a sustainable energy source. At the moment Sri Lanka’s electricity demand is growing and it gets significant power (up to 40-45%) from thermal plants burning heavy oil and coal. The chart below shows the source of electricity on 16th November 2015. Because of the high rainfall in the catchment areas there is optimal hydroelectric production (68% of the total).

This chart shows the source of Sri Lanka's electricity on 16th November 2015. Because of the high rainfall in the catchment areas there is optimal hydroelectric production (68% of the total).

This chart shows the source of Sri Lanka’s electricity on 16th November 2015. Because of the high rainfall in the catchment areas there is optimal hydroelectric production (68% of the total).(CEB)

The catalysis for my current interest interest in solar energy at OSC was my colleague’s Chamilla Ratnaweera decision to install an array of PV panels on her rooftop in July this year. She and her husband have sixteen 0.46 m2 panels for a total of 23.36 m2. They have a net-metering arrangement, which means the power that they generate goes straight into the grid and runs their meter backwards (“exporting” units on their bill). When they draw power (it is mostly at night and on weekends) the system takes electricity from the grid. Not having batteries and having to deal with the storage of solar generated electricity simplifies the process in net metering. It assumes, of course, that there is functioning electricity grid.

In September Chamilla’s panels produced an average of 14.3 kWh of solar energy every day (see graph below) and they have not paid an electric bill for the last three months! What is even more remarkable is that have also purchased a Nissan Leaf eclectic car and are able to charge the vehicle and meet their electrical energy requirements with their panels! Chamilla has access to daily, monthly and yearly data on solar energy generated (in kWh). There are several companies offering schemes and they purchased their set up through Solar Edge (marketed here by JLanka Technologies). According to their company literature a similar set with installation costs roughly LKR 1.1 million (US$ 7,700). Our class has been checking on her daily power generation every day for the last two weeks.

Graphs showing solar production in kWh generated at Chamilla’s home in September and October 2015. Even though these were relatively wet months the system generated 430.4 kWh in September and 468.87 kWh in October.

Graphs showing solar production in kWh generated at Chamilla’s home in September and October 2015. Even though these were relatively wet months the system generated 430.4 kWh in September and 468.87 kWh in October.

As a part of this study I visited the Sri Lanka Department of Meteorology on November 6th. On this initial trip I had several interesting discussions with the meteorologists who run operations and I was also able to purchase solar radiance and rainfall data. The graphs below chart solar radiance (in MJ/m2/day) against the solar energy generated by Chamilla’s panels (in kWh/day). Other than the days where there was maintenance on the panels there is a clear pattern between radiance and solar energy generated as one would expect.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department. Noe that at the beginning of the month the panels were not running at their full potential. They were serviced on September and.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department. Noe that at the beginning of the month the panels were not running at their full potential. They were serviced on September 22nd and 25th. There is 5-10 km between the two locations where the data was recorded, which may partly explain discrepancies.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department for the month of October. Like the graph above the energy generated follows the pattern of the solar radiance.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department for the month of October. Like the graph above the energy generated follows the pattern of the solar radiance. The data from October 9th and 27th was originally missing and I have substituted near values.

To better understand solar energy the class tested a small 31 x 37 cm 15w panel that the Physics class purchased last year. Will Duncan, the Head of Science, gave me a primer and demonstration on how to rig up the voltage and current meters and make calculations on energy generated by the panel. We are using Vernier’s Labquest2 devices and these are versatile data loggers that allow students to gather raw data from a variety of probes. This year we purchased the pyranometer probe, which measures irradiance (in w/m2) and allows you to then calculate the efficiency of solar panels. I ran trials with the Labquest simultaneously taking in data from three probes (voltage, current and irradiance). The raw data is then imported into Loggerpro where power and efficiency is graphed and analyzed.

Measuring raddiance (in w/m2) in a Colombo neighborhood

Measuring electromagnetic radiation (irradiance) (in w/m2) over the course of the day in our Colombo neighborhood. The results are given below.

Graph showing irradiance data gathered over a 12 hour period at our home in Battaramulla on November 7 2015. The Labquest2 with the pyranometer gathered data every minutes for 12 hours (720 minutes). The total energy available, thanks to functions on Logger Pro, for the day was 2.65 W/ m2 or …NEEDS TO BE COMPLETED.

Graph showing irradiance data gathered over a 12 hour period at our home in Battaramulla on November 7 2015. The Labquest2 with the pyranometer gathered data every minutes for 12 hours (720 minutes).

Map showing irradiation (radiance) levels in kWh/m2 draped over an elevation model (sourced from SolarGIS).

Map showing annual irradiation (radiance) levels in kWh/m2 draped over an elevation model (sourced from the amazing website SolarGIS). Both Sri Lanka and southern India have optimal conditions to tap into solar energy!

Weather is obviously a major factor in producing solar energy. We have just experienced unseasonably wet months in September and October. In fact his last Sunday- an overcast, gloomy day that experienced rainfall for much of the day- Chamilla’s panels generated 6.89 kWh of solar energy! That is lower than the 14.34 kWh September average but still significant. We have not yet done a full cost benefit analysis of the panels but it is quite clear that they pay for themselves quickly. If the electricity bill was roughly LKR 25,000 a month, the system would pay for itself in under four years. The company, like many here in Sri Lanka, is advertising the system to have a 25 year lifespan. If you are a house owner or run a large institution, such as a school like OSC, investing in a PV systems makes both sense for the climate and your wallet.

Sun or shine there are ample opportunities to generate solar energy on OSC's roofs.

Sun or shine, there are ample opportunities to generate solar energy on OSC’s many roofs. With net metering the school could potentially offset its high monthly bills.

In the next post I’ll explore rainfall data in these last few months in order look at patterns and changes from past years.

REFERENCES

Biello, David.  “Less polluting energy sources are proliferating in the U.S. If other nations join in, the results could have global impact.” Scientific American. 18 November 2015. Web. 24 November 2015.

Jayawardena, Dulip. “Potential for renewable energy in Sri Lanka.” Sunday Times. 31 October 2010. Web. 14 November 2015.

NASA. Global Maps: Net Radiation. Web. 17 November 2015.

NASA. Net Radiation (1 Month). Web Data Portal. 17 November 2015.

Plank, Alexandria R. et al. Renewable Energy With Vernier. Vernier, 2012. Print & Web.

Renné, Dave et al. Solar Resource Assessment for Sri Lanka and Maldives. Boulder, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2003. Web. 14 November 2015.

Renewable Energy for Rural Economic Development Project-Sri Lanka. Web. 13 November 2015.

Rodrigo, Chatura. “The Road to Becoming an Energy Independent Country: Can We Deliver?” Talking Economics. 5 August 2015. Web.

Solar GIS. Irradiance Portal. Web. 14 November 2015.

Sri Lanka Sustainable Development Authority. Solar Resource Atlas of Sri Lanka. Web. 14 November 2015.

Sri Lanka Sustainable Development Authority. Sri Lanka Energy Balance 2007: An Analysis of Energy Sector Performance. Web. 14 November 2015.

On the River

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Kelani River looking east at the bridge.

Kelani River looking east at the bridge near Karawanella. Taken in 2005 on one of the author’s first visits to the river. The basin due east of this point (center of image) is what surrounds Kitulgala.

“Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him from the river, from the twinkling stars at night, from the sun’s melting rays. Dreams and a restlessness of the soul came to him.”

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Every year at the beginning of the school year we take OSC’s new DP1 (Grade 11) students on a three-day experience to initiate them into the IB Diploma Program. The river-the Kelani Ganga-serves as our teacher and home as we work to build a team that will work together to meet the challenges of this rigorous academic challenge over the next 18 months. Much of the program involves physical and mind challenges set in the wet, densely forested Kelani River valley near Kitulgala.

The River

The Kelani Ganga is an important river in Sri Lanka. It is not the longest (that distinction goes to the Mahaweli Ganga) but it is important as the main river that flows through (northern) Colombo to the Indian Ocean. The Kelani begins its seaward journey in the cloud forests of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) and flows eastwards through Maskeliya, Laxapana, Kitulgala, Hanwela, Kaduwela, Kelani and out to the ocean just north of the port of Colombo. It drains one of the wettest areas of the Central Highlands and thus river discharge is very high. In its higher reaches several large hydroelectric schemes dam the river and provide power to the Ceylon Electricity Board. These schemes help contribute to Sri Lanka’s nearly 50% generation of all power through hydroelectricity. However, a new 35 MW dam has been planned and is under construction just upstream of Kitulgala. It will potentially adversely affect the white water rafting industry (see the article links below for further details) and destroy a key canyon that has become a prime destination for low impact tourist adventure tourism.

The Kelani became famous to much of the world in the 1950s when it was used as set for the Academy award-winning Bridge of the River Kwai. The movie set included a real steam engine being blown up over a life-size bridge straddling the Kelani river just east of Kitulgala town. To this day the romance of the movie is played up at the Kitulgala Rest House where pictures of the actors and actresses adorn the restaurant wall. Actual remnants of the movie set are non-existent though a sign points visitors down to the river at the former bridge set.

Scenes from the Kelani. (Above) Laxapana falls-beautiful but actually severely reduced in flow by upstream water diversions. (Below) Passengers crossing the Kelani near the Kitulgala Rest House.

Scenes from the Kelani. (Above) Laxapana falls-beautiful but actually severely reduced in flow by upstream water diversions. (Below) Passengers crossing the Kelani near the Kitulgala Rest House.

IB Orientation

We have designed the IB Orientation program to take students straight from the busses into the cold metaphorical waters of the Kelani. Water and the river play a key role as students and teachers raft and canyon their way into the camp on the first day. The team at Borderlands has an excellent safety record and time is taken to emphasize safety in the different spheres of the challenge. Some of the students have been here on past school trips or with their parents but a few came with limited swimming skills and were nervous about the challenge. We rafted through a series of rapids, took time to play in the river and then made our way through a gorge (“the Canyon”). The Class of 2017 was joined by secondary principle Eileen Niedermann, DP coordinator Tim Getter, TOK teacher Laurence Mueller, guidance counselor Rosanne Noble and myself (CAS Coordinator). By the end of the first day the team was exhausted, but exhilarated from the river and canyon. We took time to reflect on the day both as a group and individually. This is where CAS came in and the four step learning cycle (plan, act, observe, reflect) was emphasized (The new IBDP CAS Guide uses a modified five stage cycle based on Catheryn Berger Kaye’ s Five Stage of Service Learning).

The unique opportunities that students have in building leadership skills are an in important part of this program. This is a key feature of any Borderlands youth experience/camp and a goal in our own OSC orientation programs. Skills that students build in these programs serve them for life, something that I have seen in my many years here. Numerous OSC students have worked at Borderlands after graduating and it is gratifying to see them quickly transition into very capable, safety-minded guides. Olivia Molden, Jason Staeck, Margret Watts and several others have all had impressive life experiences working at Borderlands. This year John Fredericks (who graduated in the Class of 2015) was a supporting guide working with the Borderlands team. He proved to be a clear communicator, fine role model and first class river and canyon guide. John relished the reversal of roles on the abseil where he commanded and then supported teachers (and students) as they descended the falls and had to swim across a deep pool of moving water while still harnessed to the rope. For the Class of 2017 students a majority of them were given key tasks to help with guiding our group to a safe, successful conclusion. They thrived even though at times the perceived risks (scare factors) were considerable.

Orientation Collage#2

The preparation , learning and adventure begin…

Collage of OSC students on IB orientation.

Collage of OSC’s Class of 2017 students on IB orientation.

Students negotiating the “canyon.” Several of them had an opportunity to take on leadership roles that helped the team safely navigate the slides, jumps and pools. This is a beautiful area now at risk from plans to run a large pipe down the gorge to a hydroelectric generating plant.

OSC’s Class of 2017 after passing through the upper and lower canyon.

OSC’s Class of 2017 after passing through the upper and lower canyon.

The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) component of the orientation program is set in the historical Belilena Cave located amongst rubber plantations above Kitulgala. This is a significant Sri Lankan archeological site and is thought to be one of the oldest locations showing evidence of early Homo sapiens in all of South Asia (estimates range from 12,000 to 30,000 years before present)! The setting is sublime and with a little imagination it is possible to imagine a very different scene so many years ago. The students were invited to think about knowledge and test their senses as they grappled with a series of cognitive challenges. In the second part of the afternoon the tasks were much more physical and the class hiked up to a 100-meter waterfall to be tested in a slippery abseil. The skies opened up on the second group but almost all of our team was able to do the abseil regardless of the weather. We wrapped up the day with reflection and then free time. On the final morning OSC’s service coordinator Amanda Lenk led the group in an activity to learn about the stories of the people of the river. Small groups fanned out with Borderland’s guides to listen and interact with a variety of individuals who are from different strata of Kitulgala’s community. The stories that we listened to and recorded are part of an effort to help our students better understand the broader human community outside of their normal spheres of interaction.

Series on a tea planter being interviewed by OSC students near Kitulgala.

Series on a tea planter being interviewed by OSC students near Kitulgala.

Landscape above the Kelani Valley highlighting rubber plantations (to the left) and land being readied for tea cultivation.

Landscape above Kitulgala looking west down the Kelani Valley. The image highlights rubber plantations (to the left) and land being prepared for tea cultivation. The original vegetation in this area would have been lowland tropical rainforest. This panorama was taken during the 2013 IB Orientation.

An Uncertain Future

People living in the Kitulgala area are dependent on a variety of livelihoods mainly connected with small-scale home gardens and plantation agriculture. Traditionally the area has been important for rubber and tea plantations and of course the kitul syrup that is tapped from the palm Caryota urens. In recent years tourism has become an important source of income for Kitulgala residents. The road between Nuwara, Eliya (via Hatton) and Colombo runs through Kitulgala and this is a major artery for tourist traffic. Kitulgala’s tourism is largely centered around the thriving white water rafting activities that first started in the 1990s. Other activities such as bird watching, abseiling, canyoning cycling and hiking have developed in the area. All of these are potentially sustainable, low-impact forms of tourism with no significant impact on the landscape. Most of the guides both on land and on the river are from the area and the activities have been a significant economic benefit to the Kitulgala community. The proposed Broadlands dam could potentially jeopardize this fine balance.

GIS generated Map of Kitulgala and Kelani River Basin.

GIS generated Map of Kitulgala and Kelani River Basin created with SL Survey Department and NASA SRTM data by the author.

Google Earth image looking at the Kelani rafting area from the south.

Google Earth image looking at the Kelani rafting area and “canyon” from the south.

STUDENT REFLECTIONS

FURTHER REFERENCES

Broadlands Hydropower Project Website.

Jayasinghe, Amal. “Broadlands power project will kill Kitulgala’s white water rafting.” The Island. 30 August 2014. Web.

Kannangara, Nirmala. “Power Project To Dam White Water Rafting.” The Sunday Leader. 29 September 2013. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Taking the Plunge in the IB Program.” Ian Lockwood Blog. September 2013. Web.

Radrigo, Malaka. “War for water in Kithulgala.” The Sunday Times. 16 March 2014. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2015-09-22 at 1:08 am

Mumbai Revisited: An Appreciation for Innovation, Creativity & Resilience

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A view of greater Mumbai (Bombay) using an image gathered by the NASA and the USGS Landsat 8 satellite on Sunday February 23rd,  2014. Gray areas are built up urban part of the megalopolis. There are significant areas of green space in Mumbai’s hinterlands as revealed by the image. These areas, such as Borovili National Park and several mangrove-laced estuaries show up as red and deep red in this false-color image. The satellite is picking up 11 different multi-spectral layers of data-most of which are not visible to the human eye. The 5,4,3 band combination emphasizes vegetation by assigning the infrared band to the color red while leaving green and blue with their normal bands. Other notable features include Elephanta Island and several ships in the ocean. Click on image to see enlarged A3 version at 150 DP.

A view of greater Mumbai (Bombay) using an image gathered by the NASA and USGS Landsat 8 satellite on Sunday February 23rd, 2014. Gray areas are built up urban parts of the megalopolis. There are significant areas of “green space” in Mumbai’s hinterlands as revealed by the image. These areas, such as Borovali National Park and several mangrove-laced estuaries show up as red and deep red in this false-color image. The satellite is picking up 11 different multi-spectral layers of data-most of which are not visible to the human eye. The 5,4,3 band combination emphasizes vegetation by assigning the infrared band to the color red while leaving green and blue with their normal bands. Other notable features include the Bandra Sea Link, Chhatrapati Shivaji airport, Elephanta Island and numerous ships in the ocean. Click on image to see enlarged A3 version at 150 DP

Back at ASB, after the morning visit to Elephanta, I enjoyed three invigoration days of thought- provoking demonstrations, workshops, lectures, interactions and talks at the ASB Unplugged. The workshops were crowded with 400 or so participants from across the globe and we were joined by the ASB staff, students and staff. The three days were split between student demonstrations, classroom visits and then “hands-on” learning institutes. The first day was capped with a Tedx talk.

There were many personal outcomes that I got out of the conference: I relished learning about strategies for effectively integrating technology in my classroom, interacting with students about their personal application of technology in the DP and CAS programs and sitting in on several excellent interactive lectures by learned experts. It was difficult trying to choose from the myriad workshops but my choices of Larry Rosen’s Brain-Based Learning workshop and Suzie Boss’ Project-Based learning were just right for my own needs. It was good being part of a whole school team approach and the six of us OSC participants regrouped frequently to share learning and outcomes from various workshops. Our family friend Alok Parashar is ASB’s head of administration and we reminiscing about our years together on MUWCI’s distant hilltop. Interestingly, there were no geo-spatial workshops on offer and it appears to me that this is a key deficiency in the program that will perhaps offer an opportunity to address at the next conference. Thinking about this, I started the download of a Landsat compressed file of Mumbai (taken just five days earlier) from Earth Explorer on the first night. It has taken several hours of processing and has helped me rediscover this neck of India that I know well from a decade ago. The image above is the outcome of that process. I have also started working with several other cloud free images from the Pune, Nashik and Ratnagiri areas.

ASB is an impressive learning community and they are blessed with outstanding resources. Like anyone in Mumbai and other urban areas in India they face a challenge in the day-to-day reminder of extreme income disparities in society-something there are few quick fixes for. Perhaps what is most interesting to me is their singular focus on their mission and purpose. The focus on innovation and creativity at all levels of the school is something that many of us could learn from. The space and time given for students and teachers to apply learning in practical ways was energizing. ASB’s Superintendent, Craig Johnson, passionately articulated this in his welcome and concluding speeches. These were positive ideas to bring back with us to Colombo. What they didn’t have in Mumbai was the greenery, fresh air, island hospitality, spicy sambol and quiet neighborhoods that are a blessing to the OSC community and it was with happiness that I returned to my family in the eastern suburbs of Sri Lanka’s capital city!

Scenes from a taxi window: the Bandra Sea Link, Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) growing on a Colaba buildings, and a Fiat on the newly opened Eastern Expressway.

Scenes from a taxi window: the Bandra Sea Link, Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) growing on a Colaba buildings, and a Fiat on the newly opened Eastern Expressway.

REFERENCES

Future Forwards Exploring Frontiers in Education at the American School of Bombay. Mumbai: ASB, 2013. Web Link.

Riebeek, Holli. “Why is that Forest Red and that Cloud Blue? How to Interpret a False-Color Satellite Image.” NASA Earth Observatory. 4 March 2014. Web. 5 March 2014.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-03-06 at 4:58 pm

Explorations in Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone

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Sigiriya from the south as seen from Pidruangala on a damp, monsoon-soaked morning.

Sigiriya from the south as seen from Pidruangala on a damp, monsoon-soaked morning.

In the last week of January OSC’s students and teachers fanned out across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka to learn outside to the traditional classroom walls. The focus of these trips was varied and encompassed a number of curricular goals, outdoor experiences, service opportunities and explorations of our host nation. There were a wide variety of transport methods: buses, vans, a flight north and even bicycles. Students explored ruins of past civilizations, surveyed coral life underwater, slept in tree houses, helped out in Tsunami-affected communities, sampled bird populations in a rainforest, tweeted about Jaffna’s recovery, abseiled off of waterfalls and much more. The outcome of students and teachers electrified by their learning was clear for all to see at the conclusion of the trips and has been evident as we reflect back on the experiences and learning.

This year aside from coordinating the program I led a small group of students on what I called an exploration of Sri Lanka’s dry zone ecosystems. I was supported by Marlene Fert and we had eleven Grade 10 & 11 students on the trip. My idea was to expose the group to sites that blend culture, history and ecology off the beaten tourist track. We were based in the shadow of the rock fortress at Sigiriya and port town of Trincomalee. Originally we had planned to visit Pigeon Island, but the stirred up seas from the tail end of the North East monsoon made this impossible. My family and I had made two trips in preparation for this study trip (see blog posts from April 2013 and October 2013) and I wanted to was provide a similar, yet climatically different WWW experience to the Sinharaja WWW trip. Ironically we experienced a good deal of rain in the dry zone, but never enough to negatively affect our plans.

Scenes from the dry zone int he wet season...Dehigaha Ela and Pidrangla

Scenes from the dry zone int he wet season…Dehigaha Ela and Pidrangla

Back of Beyond’s properties at Dehigaha Ela and Pidruangala provided the perfect place to be based at. They are both situated in serene dry zone mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, they have super staff that provide a home-away-from-home atmosphere, the accommodation (some in trees or caves) is beautifully earthy and there is (thankfully) only intermittent cellphone connectivity! While there we took a day trip to Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve and a night walk in the Popham Arboretum. In Ritigala we explored the ruins of monastic communities and other evidence of past civilizations.

Biodiveristy, both livging and dead, see on our visit.

Biodiveristy, both living and dead, seen on our visit.

A highlight was visiting two archeological sites that both host important Buddhist vadatages (relic houses) and other significant sacred ruins. Medirigiriya is an impressive site with nearly two thousands years of recorded history. It sits off the main Habarana- Polonnaruwa road and is free of tourists. North of Trincomalee is the ancient Jaffna kingdom port of Thiriyai with a very old and important Buddhist vadatage set on a low hillock amidst mixed evergreen and deciduous dry zone forests. Thiriyai was apparently it is the “Thalakori in the 2nd century AD map of Ptolemy” (Wikipedia). Images from these sites will be highlighted in an album in the next post.

WWW Dry Zone Explorations map #1 (with edits)

WWW Dry Zone Explorations map #1 (with edits)

Here is the poster (below)  that I put together for the WWW exhibition held on 20th February 2014. The Landsat imagery is much more recent (from the week after the trips came back).

WWW Exhibition Poster (originally  A1 size with 300 DPI)/ Reduced to 72 dpi here.

WWW Exhibition Poster (originally A1 size with 300 DPI)/ Reduced to 72 dpi here.

 

FURTHER LINKS

Dammika, Ven. S. Sacred Island: A Buddhist’s Pilgrims’ Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web. 7 February 2014 (see Medirigiriya  Thiriyai)

Fernando, Nihal et al. Stones of Eloquence: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Studio Times, 2008. Print.

Lankapura  http://lankapura.com/ (a good site for historical images & maps  of Sri Lanka)

Raheem, Ismeeth. Archaeology & Photography – the early years 1868 -1880. Colombo: The National Trust of Sri Lanka, 2010. Print.

2013 OSC Field Study to Sri Pada

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Collage of native flora on the forest trail to Sri Pada's 2,243 meter summit.

Collage of snapshots of native flora on the forest trail to Sri Pada’s 2,243 meter summit.

Every December it is my privilege and pleasure to lead a group of DP I (Grade 11) OSC students up the slopes of Sri Pada in order to study the mountain’s ecology and appreciate its value as a stronghold of biodiversity in a rich Sri Lankan cultural landscape. This year I invited the DP Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter to join our group of eleven DP ES&S students. We were supported by our teaching colleagues Sonalee Abeyawardene and Celine Dary  (so there were added opportunities to explore ideas of pilgrimages in literature and converse in French during our three days out!). Several students had just completed a heart-pounding SAISA tournament in Muscat and hopped from their airport bus onto ours as we headed up into the Central Highlands on a clear Monday morning.

Vertical zonation studies of floral diversity on the forest path to Sri Pada

Vertical zonation studies of floral diversity on the forest path to Sri Pada (center and right) and degraded forest near the Fishing Hut (left). Max, Chadoo and Teresa laying the transect and looking for plant diversity.

The Moray Estate Fishing Hut#1.

The Moray Estate Fishing Hut#1.

ES&S task sheets from the 2013 Sri Pada learning experience.

ES&S task sheets from the 2013 Sri Pada learning experience.

A contrast in habitats. A monoculture landscape of tea and non-native shade trees overshadowed by undisturbed sub-montane tropical rainforest in the Peak WIlderness area.

A contrast in habitats: a monoculture landscape of tea and non-native shade trees overshadowed by undisturbed sub-montane tropical rainforest in the Peak Wilderness area.

Looking for orchids  and other delights in the grassy meadow below the peak (altitude 1900 meters). John visits a favorite area..

Looking for orchids and other delights in the grassy meadow below the peak (altitude 1,900 meters). John visits a favorite, familiar area…

For all students, be they biologists or ecologists in ES&S, the three-day visit to Sri Pada and the Peak Wilderness area offers a unique opportunity to conduct field studies in a biologically rich but anthropogenic influenced landscape. The trip is a unique learning experience, one that is perhaps less appreciated by students in the moment but invariably remembered with great fondness. As usual, we based ourselves at the Moray Estate Fishing Huts. These three rustic cabins are rented out to ecotourists and people willing to put up with simple amenities in order to experience a uniquely beautiful location. Significant time was spent simply getting to the huts and back but once at the Fishing Huts there were all sorts of opportunities for learning. The huts lie at the boundary between manicured tea estates and mid-elevation sub-montane tropical rainforest. This year I highlighted four themes of study for the trip:

  • Theme 1: Land Use Variation (anthropocentric vs. natural ecosystems)
  • Theme 2: Forest & Vegetation Types
  • Theme 3: Vertical Zonation
  • Theme 4: Biodiversity in a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’
Appreciating abiotic factors and the role of decomposers: snapshots from the study on the slopes of Sri Pada.

Appreciating abiotic factors and the role of decomposers: snapshots from the study on the slopes of Sri Pada.

Our main study day was on Tuesday December 10th (my brother Brian’s birthday!) when the ES&S class ascended the peak. Based on the fitness and gear that the group, I decided to make it a day trip and not spend the night on the top. We went with light packs for the day and were able to conduct a series of line transects as we gained altitude on the peak. The idea was to observe and record changes in plant diversity as we traversed human and natural landscapes and gained altitude on the peak. I had decided to leave my heavy camera gear in Colombo and was armed with a lightweight Canon Powershot, GPS and small temperature probe. The small allowed me to take quick snapshots of the wealth of plant life on the forest trail- and the detail isn’t too bad. Because the hike is physically demanding, there was little time to linger but the group managed at least five transects at different elevations and habitats. We got to the temple around 1:00 –it was pleasantly empty as the season was still a week away from starting. Our lunch of peanut butter and Nutella wraps was shared with a wandering Australian, we rang the temple bells, appreciated the summit temple and then headed back down. One of the students- Max who had been in Muscat playing football for OSC -had a sore knee and we took the last bit slowly. This facilitated a meandering conversation and time to observe the forest much more closely. It was dark by the time we got back to the Fishing Hut.

Snapshots of the OSC Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter in action. On the right the ES&S  class descends from the Peak through sub-montane tropical rainforest.

Snapshots of the OSC Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter in action. On the right, the ES&S class descends from the Peak through sub-montane tropical rainforest.

On the final morning we were able to look at a patch of degraded forest and a eucalyptus plantation. These habitats offer a fascinating contrast to the sub-montane forest. There are numerous invasive species colonizing these disturbed areas but also a gratifying number of native species also making a start. Down below us the biologists completed a biotic index study of two streams (one from the forest and one from the tea estate). We were moving back to Colombo by 10:30 and school wrapped up two days later. Now, as we begin a new term, the classes will be sifting through their data, science journals, photographs and memories to consolidate their learning on Sri Lanka’s sacred mountain.

Past OSC school trips to Sri Pada have been reported in this space:

  • OSC Class of 2010 (Sri Pada 2008 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2011 (Sri Pada 2009 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2012 (Sri Pada 2010 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2013 (Sri Pada 2011 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2014 (Sri Pada 2012 trip)
OSC's ES&S students on the last steps and then summit of Sri Pada.

OSC’s ES&S students on the last steps and then summit of Sri Pada.

Looking over the Peak WIlderness area to the east of the peak from the summit temple. The Fishing Hut and Moray Estate is on the far left.

Looking over the Peak Wilderness area to the east and south of the peak from the summit temple. The Fishing Hut and Moray Estate is on the far left.

Scenes from the Sri Pada temple area.

Scenes from the Sri Pada temple area. This was a week before the pilgrimage season officially opened up and the temple area was serene and quiet.

Sunset over Sri Pada.

Sunset over Sri Pada. Taken on Monday December 9th after a cold stream traverse.

Taking The Plunge in the IB Diploma

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OSC's Class of 2015 IB Orientation...a collage of activities

OSC’s Class of 2015 IB Orientation…a collage of activities

“I have always thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions.”

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Every August in the midst of the South West Monsoon new batches of students enter OSC’s IB Diploma Program. We are a relatively small school and usually have cohorts around 30-35 students from a dozen or more countries. For the next 18 months these young women and men will undertake a series of academic, extra-curricular and personal challenges. There are significant peaks and troughs and the exercise culminates in rigorous exams that are assessed alongside thousands of other students worldwide. In addition to six subjects divided between three higher level and three standard levels subjects, they write an extended essay, participate in the Theory of Knowledge class and take part in the Creativity Action and Service (CAS) program. For many the goal is university entrance but there are basic skills in being a human being in an increasingly interconnected, sometimes perplexing world that are just as important. It is a daunting challenge for even the most organized, brightest and/or hardest working individuals and yet our students do amazingly well. In order to prepare them for this exceptional learning experience, we conduct an orientation program that emphasizes team building, leadership and experiential education using the outdoors. The program is facilitated by Borderlands Sri Lanka at their Kitulgala base camp. The idea is to give OSC’s students a sense of the DP, highlight a few keys components and help them to take the plunge both metaphorically and in the flesh!

Much of the program involves physical challenges set in the wet, densely forested Kelani River valley. The river, originating on the slopes of Sri Pada, runs through the small town of Kitulgala located about 100 km due east of Colombo. Water and the river play a key role as students and teachers raft and canyon their way into the camp on the first day. The team at Borderlands has an impeccable safety record and time is taken to emphasize safety in the different spheres of the challenge. Some of the students have been here on past school trips or with their parents but a few came with limited swimming skills and were nervous about the challenge. We rafted through a series of rapids, took time to play in the river and then made our way through a gorge (“the Canyon”). By the end of the first day the team was exhausted, but exhilarated from the river and canyon. We took time to reflect on the day both as a group and individually. This is where CAS came in and the four step learning cycle (plan, act, observe, reflect) was emphasized.

OSC's Class of 2015 Rafting the Kelani River.

OSC’s Class of 2015 Rafting the Kelani River.

Abseiling in heavy afternoon rain. Borderlands instructors Mahesh and Nirmal guiding OSC students over the edge.

Abseiling in heavy afternoon rain. Borderlands instructors Mahesh and Nirmal guiding OSC students over the edge.

Learning to think  about knowledge in Belilena Cave.

Learning to think about knowledge in Belilena Cave.

The Theory of Knowledge component of the orientation program is set in the historical Belilena Cave located amongst rubber plantations above Kitulgala. This is a significant Sri Lankan archeological site and is thought to be one of the oldest locations showing evidence of early Homo sapiens in all of South Asia (estimates range from 12,000 to 30,000 years before present)! The setting is sublime to say the least and the echoes of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave ring loud in this setting (a link pointed out by OSC’s mathematics HOD and philosophy junkie last year). The students were invited to think about knowledge and test their senses as they grappled with a series of cognitive challenges. In the second part of the afternoon the tasks were much more physical and the class hiked up to a 100 meter waterfall to be tested in a slippery abseil in an intense downpour.  The sense of accomplishment and elation at the end of this was palatable.

Waterfall on Belilena Cave with OSC students exploring the meaning of knowledge on a monsoon soaked day (taken on IB Orientation 2012).

Waterfall on Belilena Cave with OSC students exploring the meaning of knowledge on a monsoon soaked day (taken on IB Orientation 2012).

Top of "the Canyon"...taking the plunge.

Top of “the Canyon”…taking the plunge.

Making our way through "the Canyon"...falling the stream over a series of falls, pools and gorges.

Making our way through “the Canyon”…following the stream over a series of falls and through pools and gorges (note the Impatiens sp. on the wall!).

Lower canyon

Lower canyon…almost finished.

On our final day we explored ideas of community in the changing landscape. Students broke into small teams to meet a cross section of local inhabitants and talk to them about their memories, experiences and dreams of the river. This is a new initiative and will hopefully lay the ground work for follow up work when subsequent OSC classes return here. We returned to Colombo exhausted, slightly bloodied by leeches but exhilarated by the experiences of taking the plunge into the IB Diploma Program.

OSC's Class of 2015 and a few of their teachers at a brea while rafting down the Kelani River on Day 1

OSC’s Class of 2015 and a few of their teachers at a break while rafting down the Kelani River on Day 1

Written by ianlockwood

2013-09-10 at 5:48 pm

Using Remote Sensing Imagery for Teaching & Learning in the IB

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Colombo Landsat#1

Colombo Landsat#1 (5,4,3 “infrared” false color view)(27 June 2013)

Several developments in data accessibility and technology have helped launch a popular revolution in the use of remote sensing technology. The Landsat program run by NASA and the USGS has had a series of satellites orbing the earth since 1973 and has recently put its entire 40-year archive in the public domain. What this means is that students, teachers, scientists and citizens can now access detailed imagery of anywhere in the world to analyze vegetation, land cover and change. This has interesting implications for teachers and students in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program.

Remote Sensing (RS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is not formally a part of any IB Diploma subjects. Anyone pursuing geography at the tertiary level will have to have GIS skills, but this has not been incorporated into the teaching requirements. The Geography, Environmental Systems & Societies and Physics courses, all have opportunities to use these technologies to address key concepts and learning outcomes. In DP Geography GIS is a useful tool in building geography skills (core 1.0) and the Urban Environments option. I teach basic GIS skills to all of our Geography students for them to use in the Internal Assessment as well as areas of the core syllabus (populations in transition etc.). We are also working in the OSC Humanities department to introduce basic GIS mapping skills at an early age. Despite GIS & RS only playing a minor role in the syllabus, they are showing up in final assessments. The May 2012 IBDP Geography exam question, for example, featured a Landsat image of urban growth and sprawl in the Pearl River delta taken from the NASA Earth Observatory.

Colombo Landsat #3

Colombo from Landsat 8 (6,5,4 “false color”)(27 June 2013)

Colombo from Landsat 7 (2000)

Colombo from Landsat 7 (2000)

Colombo Band combinations with Landsat 8

Colombo Band combinations with Landsat 8

This year we have acquired two Vernier ALTA II Reflectance Spectrometers. I was exposed to the use of these while at the JOSTI workshops at Thomas Jefferson School for Science & Technology last summer. A highlight for me -and I was the only participant – was taking the Remote Sensing workshop with Lisa Wu and Shawn Stickler. They run courses in Geosystems and Oceanography which both utilize GIS and RS applications. Students  at TJ are actively involved in the design and usage of their data gathering equipment. One of them had completed impressive work in the Chesapeake Bay interpreting temporal data using Landsat images combined with ground truthing trips.

The Alta II meters are relatively simple gadgets that measure the reflectance of different colors from a given surface. The meter operates by shining a small LED light (from Deep Blue up to Deep Red and Infrared).  A photo sensor records the amount of light bouncing back into the meter.  The value that the meter gives is then divided by the particular color’s wavelength (in nm) minus the “dark value” (value of meter when no color buttons are pushed). So it does take some simple division to actually arrive at the reflectance percentage once you have your readings. These can be graphed (see jack example blow) and then compared to standard values. I ran an initial trial using mango (Mangifera zeylanica) and jack (Artocarpus heterophyllus) tree leaves. The next week our Grade 12 students conducted a similar test on a variety of surfaces as a part of their IB Group IV project. Reflectance is quite consistent for various species but there would be variations based on the age of leaf (which is why I took values for two different jack tree leaves). NASA has a helpful online spectral calculator for looking at reflectance values of different species in North America.

What is interesting is to use the reflectance meter to corroborate or ground truth reflectance values of surfaces that are visible in the Landsat satellite imagery. The normalized differential vegetation index (NDVI) has also become a standard test run using RS images. It measures a value of vegetation in a given area and this can then be compared to the same area at other times. The Earth Observatory has a clear explanation of the NDVI index. India’s Aligarh Muslim University also has an excellent article on reflectance that is worth looking up.  In the coming months my students and I will be working to make clear linkages between Landsat imagery and the values that they are collecting in our area.

Vernier Reflectance Spectrometer with different surfaces (the sensor is underneath and the value on the screen is for the "dark value")

Vernier Alta II Reflectance Spectrometer with different surfaces (the sensor is underneath and the value on the screen is for the “dark value”)

Reflectance readings from two jack fruit leaves (one old and one new).

Reflectance readings from two jack fruit leaves (one old and one new).

OSC students collecting reflectance data on a traditional tile at the craft village

OSC students collecting reflectance data on a traditional tile at the craft village, The above image shows the meter over a mango leaf. The value is a dark value (here with considerable light pollution from outside).

If you are looking to access the Landsat Program the best point to start is the USGS Earth Explorer (this is better achieved using a browser enabled with Java). Earth Explorer has a wide range of spatial data available and it is worth exploring all the many different data sets. Another point to access basic spatial data from Landsat (without having to process it) is the Terralook site. You can also use the Glovis Site (that I had recommended in my post a year ago). When I am working with Landsat data I download full GeoTif files from Earth Explorer and then work with the different tiles using ArcCatalog and ArcView (Desktop). Having a fast Internet connection is essential for this. I have started a page on my Mango Wiki site to help my students access Landsat data and instructions that are available online. A very useful manual to have is Remote Sensing for Ecology and Conservation authored by Ned Horning and several others at the Center for Biodiversity & Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. For a portfolio of images taken from space and clear explanation of the way satellites gather multi spectral data see Andrew Johnston’s Earth From Space (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2007). The Alta II reflectance spectrometer meter is available through Vernier in the US and comes with a manual of lessons plans. It does not plug into the Lab Quest devices that most science labs are using.

Written by ianlockwood

2013-08-26 at 4:05 pm

Sustainability Lessons at the Sholai School

Kitchen area of the Sholai School oveshadowed by  the higher Palani Hills.

Kitchen area of the Sholai School overshadowed by the higher ranges of the Palani Hills.

Several weeks ago my family and I took an eye opening day trip to the Sholai School just down the hill from Kodaikanal. The visit has helped me think about ecological teaching and learning as well as themes that are at the center of my work as an educator, photographer and writer. I entered the teaching profession in order to make a living learning and teaching about the planet with a special focus on South Asia. Increasingly, as I was reminded of on this trip, the idea of sustainability has come to be a central theme in my professional and personal life.

The Sholai School, also known as the Center for Learning Organic Agriculture and Appropriate Technology (CLOAAT), was set up by Brian Jenkins in 1989. It has grown slowly and now has considerable land area and a broad range of educational goals that it addresses. The school size is small-only about 40 students- but it addresses a range of ecological and sustainability themes . Students actively participate in their living, food production and the maintenance of the school. The teaching of J. Krishnamurti have been instrumental in shaping Brian’s world view and the pedagogical focus of the Sholai School. Brian is an old family friend who I first met when he spoke to our senior auto maintenance class at Kodaikanal International School in early 1988. The Sholai School also owns a Stirling Dynamics (India) ST-5 biomass-fueled engine which my father Merrick spent time looking at and advising Brian on.

Brian Jenkins the founder, principal and man behind the Sholai School vision. Seen here collecting rubbish at the school's landmark footbridge.

Brian Jenkins the founder, principal and man behind the Sholai School vision. Seen here collecting rubbish at the school’s landmark footbridge.

During the course of our visit we were able to see most of the campus and enjoyed a personal tour from Brian. The school was not in session but the staff was working on various projects and the fields. The Petupari Valley, where the school is located, is known for its coffee, fruit production, home-made cheeses and idiosyncratic people looking to make something different in the world. With an altitude of 1,000-1,400 meters it is a less extreme environment than the upper Palani Hills plateau. This is well suited for agricultural experiments and has the “goldilocks” just-right feel to its weather. Effective water management is a crucial aspect enabling success of the Sholai School experiment. The school uses surface water from streams, collects rain water and also has several wells, such that they are self-sufficient and free of any municipal or government water supply. They are  independent of grid electricity and generate power through photovoltaic panels and a micro-hydroelectric turbine. Cooking is done on biogas (fed by waste from cows and the campus toilets) and wood collected from the large compound. The campus includes numerous plots of agricultural land where the community grows much of their own food using organic methods. The buildings, built of stone and covered with tiled roofs, are aesthetically pleasing and look similar to the nearby village hamlets.

We weren’t able to observe classes in session but the critical aspect of the curriculum involves teaching students the practical skills for living sustainably. The Gandhian ashram ideal has influenced the planning and the whole community participates in daily maintenance (seva) of basic needs. Although Brian has had his differences with neighbors there is clearly an attempt to break down barriers and invite the local community to participate in the experiment. I appreciate this, remembering how so many international schools that I have been associated with function as bubbles of elitism in their communities. At the Sholai School there is an emphasis on hands on learning that primarily focuses on providing healthy, organic food.  Brian has a special interest in mechanical learning and there are automotive and wood workshops, reminiscent to me of Johnny Auroville’s place. Brian’s historic 1930s Austin 7, the vehicle that our class had inspected in 1988, is still working and Sholai students get a chance to work on it and several other vehicles. Place-based pedagogies are important and the students learn about the area’s biodiversity, the traditions of the Tamil villages and the history of the area. I was thrilled to see that they have a GIS lab and have done interesting work in map the watershed that their streams are fed by. The school offers students a chance to sit for the Cambridge (IGCE) exams, which allows them a chance to reenter the other world and attend university. There are also opportunities for older “mature students” (university age) to spend time learning at the Sholai School. Clearly the Sholai School faces its set of challenges: recruiting and retaining faculty and staff  is difficult and it takes a special teenager to take on the challenge of living and learning in its isolated valley. Brian is charismatic, headstrong and clearly eccentric, but he is a passionate voice for sustainability in the wilderness.

Further up the hill from Sholai School is Kodaikanal International School (KIS), now moving into its 112th year. It is an established school that played a historic role in introducing the International Baccalaureate into India and the South Asian region. Ideas of critical thinking, service to the community, an appreciation of the idea of India and learning based on values are important elements of the KIS educational philosophy. As students many of us were exposed to ecological and conservation issues through weekend outings and explorations into the Palani Hills. In my experience, our self awareness and spiritual growth was nurtured not in the church pew or classroom, but by these outside experiences and the interaction with friends of diverse backgrounds all in a unique, south Indian mountain landscape.

Flag Green on the main KIS campus. A favorite place for lazy afternoons, south Indian lunches and classroom lectures.

Flag Green on the main KIS campus. A favorite place for lazy afternoons, south Indian lunches and class interactions.

THe Ganga Campus of KIS, site of the primary and middle schools. THe large area gives a sense of the "old kodai"- cool, spacious and green.

The Ganga Campus of KIS, site of the primary and middle schools. The large area gives a sense of the “old kodai”- cool, spacious and green.

KIS has its roots in American Christian missions that used to send their children from across Asia to attend what was then a small residential school in a very sleepy, unknown Indian hill-station. My parents were both amongst those children, travelling from Madhya Pradesh and Ceylon to a far off place called Kodai. All that has changed now and the school caters to a largely urban Indian/global clientele. The town has grown into a small urban area with year-round tourist traffic (think of Daytona Beach crossed with a picaresque hill station, set to a pulsating Bollywood dance number!). The school is physically surrounded by this growth, though it has some of the largest, green pieces of property in the township. The school maintains excellent academic standards, places students in outstanding world universities and has produced citizens that seek to change the world in a positive way. Service to the local and global communities are important values in KIS but students are nevertheless pampered. Many of the students come from extremely privileged backgrounds and a large, hard- working support staff helps to keep the campus fed, clean and running. Environmental education is thus far limited to a classroom, service projects and the hiking program and there is room to explore ideas of sustainability. As an educator and KIS graduate it seems that there is much to be learned from the Sholai School experiment just down the ghat road. 21st Century learning, an evolving pedagogical idea of our times, will have to extend itself from using media and technology in learning to addressing the pressing ecological needs of our times. Sustainability and how we as a species can thrive and survive without destroying our life support systems is a fundamental focus need for education. As KIS and other residential schools in India look to empower students with ecological world views and a greater understanding of sustainability, the Sholai School experiment offers a small-scale case study of a possible pathway.

Further Links & References

Basu, Soma. “Thank you Mr. Jenkins.” The Hindu. 24 May 2012. Web. 28 July 2013.

“Kodai Hills Green School.” NDTV. Web. 25 November 2010. Web. 28 July 2013.

Krishnamurti and Education. Web. 28 July 2013.

Northfield Mount Hermon Work Program. Web. 29 July 2013. Check out this site to learn about the “work” program that all students participate in.

“Rocky & Mayur share a vegetarian meal at the Sholai School.” NDTV. 7 October 2012. Web. 28 July 2013.

Sholai School (Center for Learning Organic Agriculture) official site. 28 July 2013.

The Sholai WayGobar TimesWeb. 2006. 28 July 2013.

Written by ianlockwood

2013-07-29 at 5:58 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2012

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Bangladesh Change Matters

Two sets of images from the ESRI/Landsat site called Change Matters. In both sets of pictures an early (1975) Landsat thermal/infrared image is compared with a more recent one (2000). The third image on the far right shows the NDVI, which give an estimate on vegetation change (either increases or decreases) during that time period. The above image set shows the Dhaka urban area while the bottom image details the beautiful waterways and mangrove forests of the Sunderban. I was living in Dhaka when both images were taken. One notable feature in the lower set is the birth of what is known as “Egg Island” in the south-east of the forest. It is not visible in 1975 but by 2000, a year that I last visited the area, the island has emerged. Today it continues to grow (see Google Earth image at the end of the post).

This year has seen a steady growth of Geographic Applications (GIS) in it usage to promote student learning in the humanities and environmental sciences at OSC. Some of this has been in the classroom, where a greater number of students are using GIS software to meet course expectations in the Internal Assessment and Extended Essay. A good deal of the growth in the last year has been in my own understanding of the myriad applications and data sources that are now available to users. I’ve become especially interested in remote sensing and the Landsat data archive that is now freely available. Perhaps the greatest development in GIS as a tool for teaching and learning in recent years has been the explosion of online applications and freely available data. This post will offer a short synopsis of these with the aim of providing an overview of teaching and learning options of GIS with a special focus on the South Asian region.

At OSC we continue to use the ArcGIS platform as our primary GIS software package. When I started up the program several years ago I was aided by several useful ESRI publications and online lesson plans from the ESRI Education Community. Notable amongst the books was the series Our World GIS Education (four volumes, first published in 2008). These are a bit dated now but the lessons and data still serve as a basis for the DP Geography study of population pyramids and the MYP study of the South Asian monsoon. Meanwhile the UK’s Geographical Association, in collaboration with ESRI, has published a book entitled GIS for A-Level Geography by Peter O’Connor (2010). This is probably the single, best volume to have for IBDP teachers looking to integrate GIS into their teaching. The examples and data are UK-based but it succinctly explains all the basics and has good examples. For a comprehensive introduction to maps and their applications the 6th Edition of Map Use  (A. Jon Kimerling et al 2009) is an invaluable resource. Further print resources that I have acquired to aid teaching of GIS are listed in my Wikipage.

Galle Fort Field Work

Snaps shots from the Galle MYP Geography/Humanities Field study.

Snap shots from the Galle MYP Geography/Humanities field study.

In the early parts of this year I designed a unit of study around the historical city of Galle on Sri Lanka’s South Western coast. It was part of a broader unit on globalization and tourism using Sri Lanka’s experience as a case study. We were interested to see to what extent land use patterns in the fort reflected evidence of a  development strategy that uses tourism to promote economic growth. The study involved designing and then conducing a series of surveys on a short field visit. Both Grade 10 MYP Humanities batches went down and spent a day conducting interviews to and gathering field data. Students mapped this using land use data from the Urban Development Authority. An example of what the students produced from the study is given below. The fort makes an excellent location for study; it is compact, free of traffic and is a safe location for students to wander around in. The new Southern Expressway makes the trip doable in one day- a perfect example of time-space convergence.

Student work on truism and land use in Galle Fort featuring the talents of Leila, Jesse and xx.

Student work on tourism and land use in Galle Fort featuring the talents of Leila, Jesse and Shubhanshu.

GIS Day at OSC

We celebrated “GIS Day” on November 15th with the support of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). GIS Day, of course is a global event celebrated by organizations and educational institutions using GIS. The focus of our event this year was “using GIS to better understand, analyze and address climate change.” Salman Siddiqui the head the IWMIC GIS lab and I chose the topic based on some new work that IWMI is doing and the growing importance of understanding climate change and global warming that is evident in the IB Group III and IV curricula. Usign the OSC auditorium foyer we displayed a gallery of OSC student work and IWMI posters. GIS Solutions, lead by Thillai and Ramesh were on hand to talk about and promote different GIS software options here in Sri Lanka. The main event consisted of series of lectures that were aimed at a wide range of student ages. Salman gave the keynote lecture on how IMWI is using GIS to better understand and analyze climate change. The day was capped off with an interactive session in the library computer lab for participants. Juri Roy Bruman and Prunima Dehiwela brought a batch of Geography students from the British School and they helped give a broader perspective for options of using GIS in the IB/A-Level frameworks. Several OSC humanities and science classes joined the lectures and the turnout was healthy. Although we would liked to have invited more schools from Colombo, computer spaces for the interactive sessions limited this.

GIS Day 2012 Collage

Bhuvan

In the August post I mentioned Bhuvan, the geo-spatial and earth observation portal from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). With the support of IWMI’s GIS lab team I have learnt how to access some of its data and have been especially happy to be able to download a wealth of high-resolution tiles of remote sensing imagery. One of my first tasks was to learn how to use Web Map Service (WMS) links in ArcGIS and Q-GIS. This essentially allows you to import map data that is found on an online server into your GIS software and then combine it with shapefiles and raster data that you have in your own databases. Seems quite intuitive, but it was a revelation to actually succeed in combining the data. Bhuvan hosts a detailed land cover WMS file (see map below) and there are other data sets (floods, waste lands etc.).

SWG WMS (12 2012)

Land cover map of the southern Western Ghats with data provided by the Bhuvan land use/land cover (terrain) WMS. The 500 m contour was generated from an SRTM using ArcMap.

Bhuvan’s remote sensing data for India is of a high quality, but depending on what area you want it may not always be free of clouds & haze. You have several choices about data under the Thematic Services page where, with a simple login, you can download compressed files. These are unprocessed files with 4 tiles each and you need to process them like you would a Landsat file with multiple layers of multi-spectral imagery. It has been nearly six months since I processed Landsat files and I had to re-learn how to do this. I was aided by Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont’s very helpful online slide show. It turns out that the tiles of the Palani Hills area have excellent clarity and resolution. Other areas in the southern Western Ghats (High Range, KMTR, Nilgiris etc.) are not of the same quality. At this point they only have one tile per area for the 56m AWiFS imagery. That should change in the future.

Palanis with Bhuvan Images (12_12)

ESRI’s Change Matters is an easy to use website that allows you to look at early and late Landsat imagery as well as a NDVI images that map change in vegetation. It offers two Infrared views of areas with contrasting dates that are juxtaposed with the NDVI image. The comparison is startling especially when you look for signs of change in vegetation. In the Amazon it is the incredible loss of forest that is striking. Closer to home, the Palani Hills show an apparent increase in vegetation. However, as we all know that is because most of the native montane grasslands were replaced with fast-growing tree species such as eucalyptus during the last 20-40 years. In some places you need to be aware of seasonal changes in vegetation, say between the dry and monsoon seasons in South Asia. Clouds can also be represented as vegetation decreases so the data must be analyzed carefully to get a sense of change.

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Another set of images courtesy of the ESRI/Landsat site Change Matters. This set illustrates changes in the Palani Hills and Highwavys. The addition of vegetation through introduced plantations in the upper Palanis is notable.

There are several new developments aiding data acquisition for GIS applications. Google has launched its Earth Engine, which is designed to be a portal for a mass collection of spatial data. NASA and the USGS are also working to consolidate their data under a new site called Reverb. This is where you will go in the future to mine the vast databases of  US government-funded spatial data repositories.

Egg Island (2011) Google Earth Image

A favorite place for birders and naturalists exploring the Sunderban in Bangladesh is “Egg Island.” The Guide Tours led by the Mansur family always took its visitors to Kotka and the area at the southern-eastern portion of the forest. What was once little more than a muddy bank at the point where the forest gave way to the Bay of Bengal was forming every year into a bigger, and bigger island. I first went there with birdwatchers Dave Johnson, Ronnie Halder, and Enam El Haque. Reading about their ongoing visits to the area makes me nostalgic for that wonderfully ethereal forest where I had so many memorable experiences. I continue to use it as an example of succession in a tropical forest. Unfortunately it has been hard to find time to return for an actual visit. The best I can do is view it through the lenses of satellites and the  Change Matters site has a fascinating look at the world’s largest mangrove forest. Egg Island wasn’t there in 1975 when the early passes of the Landsat satellites were made and Bangladesh was a newborn country. But the island had started to form in 2000 when we visited the area looking for Masked Finfoots, Rudy kingfishers, signs of Bengal tigers (we saw pug marks on the beach) and more…! Today it is growing into a larger island in spite of cyclones and sea level rise. This Google Earth images is from 2011.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-12-15 at 6:38 am

GIS Developments at OSC in 2011

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Sinharaja rainforest in the south west portion of Sri Lanka has been an ideal field study site for OSC’s DP Geography and Environmental Systems a& Societies classes for the last seven years. Increasingly, with changes in the syllabi, we have been looking at interactions between human communities and the different ecosystems that are a part of this World Heritage Site. Use of spatial data and mapping study sites using GIS have become integral to our studies.

The last year has seen continued growth go the GIS program at the Overseas School of Colombo. We continue to maintain a concurrent license of ESRI’s ArcMap 10, together with several extensions (3D, spatial analysis etc.) in a package designed for schools, universities and libraries. We have invested in spatial data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department and have obtained vector data for our study sites at Sri Pada/Peak Wilderness and Sinharaja rainforest. Equally important has been the contribution of data and guidance from several national and international organizations in Colombo. Dilip Hensman at the World Health Organization (WHO) has helped us with up-to-date data on health outbreaks, notably dengue at a district and DS (Divisional Secretary)  level in Sri Lanka. Skylor Knoll utilized this in his world studies extended essay. He investigated spatial patterns of rainfall and dengue–related mortality over a two-year period. Tushara at the World Food Program (WFP) has been a helpful guide with understanding and using up-to-date SRTM data. In the previous year he presented a lecture on how the WFP uses GIS to better provide food to (flood and conflict) affected areas in Sri Lanka. Senior student Camie Raguin conducted a short environmental impact assessment as part of her extended essay in the northern areas. With the aid of the able skills of Alex Mylvaganam, she was able to utilize UNDP spatial data to produce her own basic locational maps of her study site. Salman Sidique and his team including Ad Ranjit and Sajid remain one of my best resources for tinkering help. IWMI’s GeoPortal is a great place for free vector data of Sri Lanka and the basin areas where they are working.

Sample student work (Satyanshu & Vera) from a study on demographic trends in contrasting countries using age-sex pyramids generated on ArcView by the Grade 11 DP Geography class in the Fall of 2011.

OSC students in Sinharaja negotiating moss covered boulders along a riparian patch of unlogged forest near the research station. Group shot with Martin at his lodge at the end of the study, a tradition started on our first study in 2005.

One result of our continued GIS development at OSC is that this year’s IBDP Geography classes produced far superior maps of the IA field study site at Sinharaja. This year almost many of the students looked at some aspect of land use in the area and all the students created their own original maps (see samples below). The 1:50,000 vector data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department may be slightly dated but it provides a good basis for ground truthing and observation. We have more GPS units and thus teams can go in different directions to gather data simultaneously. The field visit happened in May 2011 but it took several months to process the data and to finally write it up into their final reports that will be submitted for the DP Geography exams 2012.

Three different maps from the Sinharaja Geography IA showing land use data, GPS points and the ranges of colorful options that students have when putting together their individual study maps. The picture shows a transect traversing a stream in primary forest above the Sinharaja research center. Maps by Terunaga (above two) and Sascha (below).

Collecting different types of data: Harini interviewing a woman about social economic conditions and home garden crop choices, Sascha checking water quality (temperature, turbidity, DO etc.) below Sinharaja using a Vernier probe and students taking GPS points along a secondary forest transect in Sinharaja’s Core Zone.

Sample student work from the MYP Humanities course. Leila, Tomosso and Dylan’s presentations of their spatial studies of the monsoon and other factors (human population, crop choices, land forms etc.). The posters were generated on ArcMap 10 after doing individual analysis on each data frame.

The Grade 10 MYP Geography class, which is now integrated with the History course, spends its first term looking at aspects of the monsoon in South Asia. This is broad-based learning activity that looks at physical aspects of the monsoon, its affect on agriculture in the region and what impact it has on South Asian culture. Most of the time is spent exploring and extended a lesson on the South Asian monsoon that is a module in Anita Palmer et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS. The study coincides with the end of the South West monsoon and the onset of the North East here in Sri Lanka. An amusing aspect is capping the unit off with a showing of a condensed version of Lagaan, the Oscar-nominated Bollywood film. In the story a severe drought and the monsoon serve as important metaphorical backdrops to a lengthy cricket battle in a fictional location in western India during the late 19th Century. The students produced an annotated poster illustrating a geographical question and aspects of their investigation. They need to include 1-3 maps, graphs and annotations (samples above). This will be submitted as moderated samples for their Humanities course.

Personal explorations with GIS Data from South Asia. The two larger scale maps were used for various assessments in MYP, while the Arugam Bay land use was an exercise in using different layers of data from Sri Lanka’s East Coast. The data on the above left map of South Asia is courtesy Natural Earth, which has a free global data set with elevations and bathymetric data.

GIS generated map showing OSC’s post-tsunami supported pre-schools near Hambantota.

On a personal level I made strides in developing my own cartographic skills using GIS when I had to design and produce several maps for my Sri Pada exhibition. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and I continue to get some of my best work done under such conditions. One of the maps below highlights the OSC service projects with Tsunami affected communities in the Hambantota area.

I have also started to explore a variety of other GIS applications, though because we have the license most of my efforts have been focused on ArcView skills. There are now several open-source GIS software packages, including Q-GIS. I have also started to build up a personal teaching Wiki for students to use as an online repository of links and references. I have a dedicated page of GIS Resources with special focus on Sri Lanka and South Asia.  In this next year I hope to polish student skills for use in their course, continue to build up our database of spatial data and to further explore different GIS applications in education.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-22 at 5:44 am

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