Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

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The Hills of Murugan: An Exhibition on the Palani Hills

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Hills of Murugan (Horizontal poster)

In a few days I am getting ready to put on an exhibition of fine art prints and annotated maps at Chennai’s  DakshinaChitra gallery. The show is entitled The Hills of Murugan: Landscape, Ecology & Change in the Palani Hills and will be open to visitors from July 6th-30th.

The exhibition is a compilation of nearly 30 years of documentation and 48 years of experience exploring in the Palani Hills (see list of related publications below). My past exhibitions in India focused on the broader range of the southern Western Ghats and this is a more narrowly focused series of images that emphasize one range. In the Hills of Murugan I highlight themes of changing landscape and vegetation patterns in the Palani Hills as seen in photographs and satellite imagery. Seasoned readers of this blog know that these are ideas that I have explored in published articles,  exhibitions and posts on my blog.  My work attempts to bridge science with art and conservation and I am mindful that it should not be confused with picturesque approaches to beautiful locations in India.

Samples of the 20″x 20″ prints fresh from Karthik’s printer and just signed. These are printed on Canson Infinity Rag Photographique 310 GSM, the leading papers for monochrome printing. They will be part of the main gallery of roughly 30 black & white fine art prints in square, rectangular and panoramic format.

The upcoming show marks  an important step forward with my photographic printing. For the last 15 years I have been struggling with how best to print and share my work. For the Drik and IIC  exhibitions in 2000-02 I showed work that I had completed in a traditional wet darkroom. Even though I was using medium format film that produced detailed black & white negatives, the print size was limited by the availability of photographic paper (carried from the US in luggage) and the tray sizes. My largest prints were 16”x 20” and most were 10”x 10”. With the digital revolution and the advent of digital printing my darkroom was mothballed and I tinkered with learning new skills to make black & white prints. Printing has been straight forward in Colombo’s commercial labs but the paper quality was not up to my old darkroom standards where I employed fiber-based archival paper. It has been easier to communicate my photographic work on electronic media-my blog, website and in occasional published articles. However, I’m still a believer in the idea that the photographic fine art print is the ultimate expression of the process.

For the Hills of Murugan show I was able to make contact with V. Karthik, India’s leading fine art printer. As someone with a long record of working in photographic the industry and specializing in archival restoration and printing, Karthik has developed a refined knowledge and work flow with printing fine art photographic prints. He knows the different papers, the printers and has a special appreciation for black & white work. Two weeks ago I met Karthik and we worked together with my files. Based on his guidance I had 32 different images printed that will be on display at the exhibition.

Family friend, Indian snake man and Padma Shri awardee Rom Whitaker will be inaugurating the show on July 6th at 4:30. Rom was a natural choice-he grew up in the Palanis and did some his early snake catching there. His years at Kodai school in the 1950s overlapped with my parents, Merrick and Sara Ann. My uncle, Charles Emerson, was Rom’s roommate when he was keeping snakes under his dormitory bed and I have strong memories of outings with Rom to go fishing and looking for snakes during m school years in the 1980s.  DakshinaChitra is on the same East Coast road as the Croc Bank, the site that was a key part of Rom’s work with reptiles. The team at DakshinaChitra, with guidance from curator Gita and support from Sharat Nambiar and Debbie Thiagarajan has helped facilitate the show after I proposed the idea in January. I had an affiliation with DakshinaChitra through my uncle Dr. Michael Lockwood who has contributed antique brass pieces to the galleries. I have gained a new appreciation for DakshinaChitra’s vital role in preserving and sustaining key aspects of south India’s rich cultural heritage. The Hills of Murugan has an ecological rather than cultural focus. However, through the choice of images one can better understand that the landscape and ecology provide a foundation for the livelihoods of the people living in the Palani Hills.  My wife Raina and children Lenny and Amy are putting up with me during this busy time and providing advice on the images and how best to arrange things.

The main exhibition is composed of 32 black & white fine art prints. These framed prints are designed to be a body of work that stand alone but that illustrate the themes of landscape, ecology and change in the Palani Hills. In DakshinaChitra’s side gallery I have compiled a series of annotated posters, maps and mini posters highlighting key species from the Palani Hills landscape. The goal here is more ambitious: it is designed to be  educational, such that visitors come away with a better sense of the area’s biodiversity, ecology and hydrology. Through annotated maps and posters I make references to recent history and ecological change. The theme of ecological changes resulting from non-native plantation efforts are presented and there are suggestions on the important work that needs to be done to protect the Palani Hills in the future.

The Hills of Murugan opens on July 6th at 4:30 and the show is open until the 30th of July (Tuesdays are holidays). I hope to see you there!

 

Palani Hills selection of shola/grasslands species. These are printed as A2 posters to accompany information posters in an adjoining room next to the main gallery.

Palani Hills 1973 Overlay (150)

For the exhibition I produced a series of new maps to accompany the information side of the presentation. This is a map depicting the earliest Landsat image of the Palani HIlls area. It is printed as an A1 size poster that will be in a smaller gallery next to the main hall of fine art prints.

Palani Hills Elevation Version 2a 2018 (150)

The elevation map is based on a digital elevation model of 30 meter data that I have processed from NASA raw data. I have also added key points and settlements but have left out roads and other human impacts so as to emphasize the topographical features of the Palani Hills landscape.

REFERENCES (Key articles by the author on the Palani Hills)

Lockwood, Ian. “Metamorphosis of a Landscape. ”Nature in Focus. January 2017. digital story format

           ”           . “Plantation Paradox.” Frontline. November 2015. (PDF)

           ”           . “Breathing Life Back into the Sholas.” Frontline. 20 April 2012. (PDF)

           ”           . “Fragile Heritage.” Frontline. October 2009. (PDF)

           ”           . “The Next Big Thing” Sanctuary Asia, June 2006. (PDF)

           ”           . “The Palni Hills: On the Danger List. ”Frontline. August 2003. (WEB)

 

also

Arsumani, M. et al. “Not seeing the grass for the trees: Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island.  PLOS One. January 2018. Web.

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2018-07-01 at 5:32 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2014

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Colombo Area Landsat map.

Colombo Area Landsat map.

The teaching of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills is in the midst of completing its 5th year as a part of the secondary school curriculum at the Overseas School of Colombo (OSC). The program was launched in 2009 when the school (then under the leadership of OSC Head Laurie McClellan and Secondary Principal Oli Tooher Hancock) made an investment in licensed software from ESRI. Since then DP and MYP Geography classes have been exposed to basic skills and used GIS to support field work and studies at a variety of scales. Today students are exposed to GIS skills at an early stage through their Individuals and Societies (formerly Humanities) classes. We start in MYP 1 (Grade 6), have a unit in MYP 5 (Grade 10) and then use the skills in the DP Geography. Eventually I would like to see a full vertical scope and sequence of GIS skills throughout the whole MYP. The goal of these efforts is to support the MYP and DP curriculums and give the students additional skills that are transferable in a wide variety of disciplines and university study programs. GIS is a great tool for conceptual learning in the humanities and sciences – something that several examples in OSC’s MYP and DP programs highlight.

Using Google Earth Pro in the IB Diploma

Area and perimeter exercise using Google Earth Pro.

Area and perimeter exercise using Google Earth Pro.

For the past three years OSC has applied for and received the Google Education grant that has enabled us to access several licenses of Google Earth Pro. This has allowed us to perform several more advanced spatial processing jobs and to download higher resolution imagery of some of our study areas. A short exercise that we recently used Google Earth Pro for was to make an accurate calculation of the OSC campus perimeter and area on behalf of the MYP1 (Grade 6) Math and I&S classes. You can draw polygons in Google Earth but you need the ‘Pro” version to get an accurate measurement of the area and perimeter.

To make a comparison of the Google Earth Imagery and ArcMap’s free online “World Imagery” base layer I ran a comparison of the two methods. I imported the Google Earth polygon as a KMZ file into ArcGIS and overlaid it on the Global Imagery layer. This free web-based imagery is not nearly as detailed or up-to-date as the Google Earth imagery as the two contrasting maps show here (2nd image coming soon). There are slight differences in the estimated area and perimeter, presumably a result of differences in the Datum used in each of the maps.

ArcMap view of OSC

ArcMap view of OSC

MYP 1 and DP1 Collaborative Work

Creating a basic Sri Lanka map with GIS. Screen shots from a tutorial made in house for the MYP 1 class.

Creating a basic Sri Lanka map with GIS. Screen shots from a tutorial made in house for the MYP 1 class.

The MYP1 class is working on an introductory mapping Sri Lanka tutorial that I created with my wife Raina two years ago. The map that they create is built on SL Survey Department data and highlights a chosen Sri Lankan spatial theme (tourism, tea & spices, wildlife, heritage, beach locations etc.). This year it is a truly interdisciplinary project with a strong research component worked in and inputs from the IT department. Raina who teaches both of OSC’s Grade 6 Humanities (I&S) batches, has led the class though a research project cycle that has them investigating spatial themes in Sri Lanka. Initially they worked with the math department to better understand concepts of scale and area in maps (see above). Maria Jose, OSC’s tech integrator, is helping with guiding the students on how to use Adobe InDesign to create an illustrated booklet. I normally spend a block or two with each of the classes to help them learn the basic GIS skills that they will need to create a map focusing on the theme of their project.  This year my DP1 Geography students, fresh from their own GIS work on demographic patterns, helped to teach these classes. They used a short in-house booklet that takes them step-by-step through the project. We had the first collaborative sessions today and the results have been positive and gratifying. The older students demonstrated that they are caring and knowledgeable GIS instructors.

OSC's DP1 Geography students assisting and guiding MYP1 students with their first GIS assignment.

OSC’s DP1 Geography students Kai, Charlie and Arnold assisting and guiding MYP1 students with their first GIS assignment. Photo courtesy Raina Lockwood

 

DP Environmental Systems (ES&S) & GIS

Screen shots of reflectance booklet for OSC ES&S students.

Screen shots of reflectance booklet for OSC ES&S students.

The DP Environmental Systems students are using the ALTA II Spectrometer to look at the spectral signatures of a variety of surfaces. Spectrometry is a topic that has fascinated me since my father Merrick helped me build a spectroscope for a project in Hal Strom’s Grade 9 science class at AIS/D. At OSC students first used the ALTA II in a Group IV project in 2013. I have updated this as a full internal assessment practical related to ES&S 2.2 (investigating abiotic factors of an ecosystems). Part of the fun of this exercise has been creating a small tutorial/booklet on reflectance and how we can use remotely sensed data to study and analyze land cover patterns in space and time. The student work coincides my own investigations of spectral signatures and land cover data that can be derived from Landsat imagery. The opening image in this post is now in the midst of being taken apart and analyzed to detect patterns of reflectance that will help me understand, quantify and delineate land cover. I hope to transfer learning from the Colombo exercises to conservation sites such as Peak Wilderness, Sinharaja and locations in the Western Ghats. I am using Kathryn Keranen and Robert Kolvoord’s Using GIS and Remote Sensing workbook to guide me through the process.

OSC’s DP students choosing to do a Geography (or subject area) extended essay (EE) continue to use ArcGIS to create original maps to support their studies. Some of these are straightforward locational maps while others map health and demographic variables at a district levels (we can do it a district, or GN level if needed). There is untapped potential for OSC students to investigate GIS/RS options for future EEs and MYP Personal Projects.

Increasingly GIS is moving into cloud-based solutions. At the moment we don’t seem to have the bandwidth to use these options reliably. Instead OSC continues to rely on a server we have built up using data from a wide variety of sources. OSC enjoys a unique advantage in that several Colombo-based organizations where OSC parents work have dynamic GIS programs. Our school program has been able to benefit from professional guidance from these organizations and they have shared public spatial data for our students to use. At OSC we look forward to studying and helping students to address a variety of local and global issues using sate-of-the art geo-spatial tools. The software and data hat we are privileged to have access to has widespread application in a number of diverse fields. GIS and RS skills can be technically challenging to learn at first but OSC’s students have shown the ability to learn and apply the skills to analyze and address an array of global issues.

PAST GIS AT OSC Posts

REFERENCES FOR GIS TEACHING & LEARNING

Clarke, Keith. Getting Started with Geographic Information Systems, 5th Edition. Upper Saddle River, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.Companion website (password required)

Heywood, Ian, Sarah Cornelius and Steve Carver. An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, 4th Edition. Essex,Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print. Companion website. Instructor’s Resources.

Horning, Ned et al. Remote Sensing for Ecology & Conservation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Jensen, John R. Remote Sensing of the Environment: An Earth Resource Perspective. Upper Saddle River, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

Kimerling, A. Jon. et al. Map Use, Sixth Edition. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2009. Print. Review of book.

Keranen, Kathryn and Robert Kolvoord. Using GIS and Remote Sensing: A Workbook. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press Academic, 2014. Print. Web link.

O’Connor, Peter. GIS for A-Level Geography. United Kingdom: ESRI UK & Geographical Association, 2008. Print.

Palmer, Anita et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS: Our World GIS Education. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2009. Print.

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2014-11-26 at 5:04 pm

Sahyadri Revealed

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Four part Landsat study of the Sahyadris based on imagery collected in Feburary 2014.

Four part Landsat study of the Sahyadris based on imagery collected in February 2014.

The northern portion of the Western Ghats have a unique volcanic geology that makes them quite different from the southern ranges. The Sahyadris include the ranges extending from the Goa-Karnataka-Maharashtra tri-junction to their northern most point at the Tapti River (in Gujarat). The term “Sahyadri” is also widely used to describe the whole Western Ghats chain but geographically and geologically it is a segment of the larger heterogeneous assemblage called the Western Ghats.

Konkan Keda vewson Harishchandragad looking south and north-west into the sunset. This is surely one of the most dramatic and breathtaking views in the Sahyadris. I led a group of MUWCI students and faculty members her in January of 2004 and we spent a spectacular evening sleeping out on the edge of these cliffs.

Konkan Kada views on Harishchandragad looking south and north-west into the sunset. This is surely one of the most dramatic and breathtaking views in the Sahyadris. I led a group of MUWCI students and faculty members her in January of 2004 and we spent a spectacular evening sleeping out on the edge of these cliffs.

Scenes from Torna and Rajgad forts. Torna was the first major Sahyadri fort that we took an expedition to (left and right images). We returned a year later to explore the neighboring Rajgad (center image).

Scenes from Torna and Rajgad forts. Torna was the first major Sahyadri fort that we took an expedition to (left and right images). We returned a year later to explore the neighboring Rajgad (center image).

My personal interest in the Western Ghats was nurtured in the southern-most ranges and it took me several years to finally spend time in the hills and mountains that gave the Western Ghats their name. It is in the Sahyadris that dramatic traps, (i.e. ghats or steps) fall from the Deccan Plateau to the lower Konkan plains that border the Arabian Sea. This is an area with a fascinating geological history associated with the period of volcanism that created the Deccan Plateau and may be associated with the extinction of the dinosaurs (see links below).

During the three years that my wife and I were working at the Mahindra United World College of India I had a chance to get to know parts of the Sahyadris intimately. In 2002 when we started work the college was still relatively new and there was limited knowledge on campus about the hiking/outdoors opportunities in the area. Over my three years there I recruited a diverse collection of students, teachers and friends and set out to learn as much as possible about the landscape, ecology and culture of the Sahyadris. We used Harish Kapadia’s Trek the Sahyadris as a bible and followed it to as many of the nearby locations as we could.

Three different MUWCI hikes starting in Torna (top) in 2002 and continuing to Rajgad (2003) and Nane Ghat (2004). There are several distinguished faculty members seen here including Harendra Shukla, Karl Mossfeldt, Sandy Hartwiger, Anne Hardy and Beatrice Perez Santos . Students include Nicolas, Fong, Andree and several other wonderful hiking companions.

Three different MUWCI hikes starting in Torna (top) in 2002 and continuing to Rajgad (2003) and Nane Ghat (2004). There are several distinguished faculty members seen here including Harendra Shukla, Karl Mossfeldt, Sandy Hartwiger, Anne Hardy, Andrew Mahlstedt  and Beatrice Perez Santos. Students include Nicolas, Foong, Andree, Sadia, Tanya and several other wonderful hiking companions.

We first focused on the great and lesser-known Maratha forts(Tikona, Lohgad, Torna, Rajgad, Rajmachi, Harishchandragad, Ratangad etc.). Notable peaks near the campus were climbed, explored and camped on. Towards the end of my stay we started to explore the numerous Buddhist rock cut caves that the area is blessed with. I was a keen bird watcher but it was the Sahyadris where I was inspired to study and photograph the snakes and amphibians that we encountered (mostly on our campus, an din our home during the monsoon). Interactions with notable Pune naturalists like Ashok Captain, Vivek Gaur Broome, Ashish Kothari, Sunita Rao, Pankaj Sekhsaria, Reiner Hoerig, Erach Bharucha and others helped further my interest in the area. Through a fortuitous meeting with the state minister of education I was able to get a full set of Survey of India 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 maps of our Sahyadris area stretching from Nashik down to Mahabaleshwar for the college. As I had in the other areas of the Western Ghats, I worked to document the landscapes with medium format cameras, shooting mainly in black & white (see the High Range Photography album “Sahyadris“). I also shot color slide film (not scanned yet) and color print film on a small Olympus stylus. It’s these snapshots, originally scanned in Pune, that accompany this article.

Looking east over the Paud Valley showing the distinctive conical hill above the MUWCI campus taken from a high point that was known to students as Mt. Wilkinson (after the first MUWCI Head of School). This was taken in May after one of the first pre-monsoon showers. From February-May the hills experience fires set by grazers and farmers in the valleys. The landscape makes an amazing recovery in the monsoon months but the fire encourages deflected succession such that forests have a hard time recovering on open slopes.

Looking east over the Paud Valley showing the distinctive conical hill above the MUWCI campus taken from a high point that was known to students as Mt. Wilkinson (after the first MUWCI Head of School). This was taken in May after one of the first pre-monsoon showers. From February-May the hills experience fires set by grazers and farmers in the valleys. The landscape makes an amazing recovery in the monsoon months but the fire encourages deflected succession such that forests have a hard time recovering on open slopes.

The landscape of the Sahyadris is something special to behold and it changes dramatically between the dry, scorched months of the Indian summer (March-June) to the lush, verdant months of the monsoon (June-October). During my three years I worked hard to understand the nuances of the landscape and the monsoon’s impact on it. By my final year I was able to plan several trips that provided ideal lighting conditions to do justice to the landscapes.

The NASA/USGS Landsat program has given me a chance to rediscover the Sahyadris through their amazing archive of multi-spectral imagery that is now publicly available. The escarpment of the ghats was always impressive and something I tried to find the right light to do justice to. However, seen from air or space the Sahyadris are something else. The series of maps in this post are taken from a pass of Landsat on February 23rd 2014. A few days later I was in the area participating in a conference in Mumbai and I happened the tiles in Earth Explorer when I was looked to better reconnect with the Sahyadris after a 10-year gap. The tiles have taken a good deal of processing using ArcMap to get them into their current view. I have added place names of some of the notable places that we took MUWCI hikes to. There are quite a few other points (such as the Buddhist caves, Koyna Sanctuary etc.) that didn’t make it onto these versions of the maps. Nevertheless, they should be of interest to my former students, colleagues and other fascinated by the Sahyadris.

The culminating exploratory trek that I took with a MUWCI group was to the remote fortress at Ratangad. It overlooks a steep drop to the Konkan plains and has a spectacular view north to Kalsubai, the highest peak in the Sahyadris. We had a small group for this trip - Asia, Andree and a visiting math teacher from the UWC in Trieste. A year earlier I had been on an equally rewarding trip with colleagues Bill and his fiancée Richa. We camped at the breathtaking Konkankeda with a group of some of the most wonderful MUWCI students, including Sadia, Tanya, Apoorv, Nicolas and several others.

The culminating exploratory trek that I took with a MUWCI group was to the remote fortress at Ratangad. It overlooks a steep drop to the Konkan plains and has a spectacular view north to Kalsubai, the highest peak in the Sahyadris. We had a small group for this trip – Asia, Andree and a visiting math teacher from the UWC in Trieste. A year earlier I had been on an equally rewarding trip with colleagues Bill and his fiancée Richa. We camped at the breathtaking Konkan Kada with a group of some of the most wonderful MUWCI students, including Sadia, Tanya, Apoorv, Nicolas and several others.

REFERENCES

Kapadia, Harish. Trek the Sahyadris, 5th Edition. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Co. 2003. Print. Web Site.

Lockwood, Ian. “Sahyadris.” High Range Photography. 2005. Digital album on Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Traversing the Sahyadris.” Sanctuary Asia. June 2005. Print (PDF).

Sheth, Hetu. “The Deccan: Beyond the Plumes Hypothesis.” Mantle Plumes. August 2006. Web.

 

 MAPS

Sahyadris art ¼ : Showing the Malsej Ghats, Harishcahdragad and Ratangad sections of the Sahyadris.

Sahyadris art ¼ : Showing the Malsej Ghats, Harishcandragad, Ratangad and Kalsubai sections of the Sahyadris.

Sahyadris Part 2/4: Showing Bhimashankar, Rajmachi and down to MUWCI.

Sahyadris Part 2/4: Showing Bhimashankar, Rajmachi and down to MUWCI.

Sahyadris Part ¾ : Showing the area from Lonavala and MUWCI down to Mahabaleshwar. This sis the area that most MUWCI teachers and students became familiar with. Click on image for an A3 150 DPI version.

Sahyadris Part ¾ : Showing the area from Lonavala and MUWCI down to Mahabaleshwar. This is the area that most MUWCI teachers and students became familiar with. Click on image for an A3 150 DPI version.

Sahyadris Part 4/4: Showing the area from Mahabaleshwar south to Koyna reservoir and lake. Mahabaleshwar is as far as we got during our time at MUWCI. Koyna is an important habitat for a range of wildlife including tigers, but it is under pressure from various development schemes and encroachment. Click on image for an A3 150 DPI version.

Sahyadris Part 4/4: Showing the area from Mahabaleshwar south to Koyna reservoir and lake. Mahabaleshwar is as far as we got during our time at MUWCI. Koyna is an important habitat for a range of wildlife including tigers, but it is under pressure from various development schemes and encroachment. Click on image for an A3 150 DPI version.

 

 

 

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2014-06-01 at 5:53 pm

Land Cover Changes in the Palani Hills: A Preliminary Visual Assessment

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1973 Landsat map of the high Range, Anaimalai and Palnis Hills.

1973 Landsat map of the High Range, Anaimalai and Palani Hills. (February 1973)

41 years later....Landsat view of the same area (February 2014)

41 years later….Landsat view of the same area (February 2014)

I continue to be interested in themes of change in the southern Western Ghats (and Sri Lanka) and am now working to better measure and detect land cover change using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and temporal satellite data gathered by the USGS/NASA Landsat satellites. My interest in the area has grown out of a deeply personal engagement with the landscape over the last few decades. It started on childhood walks with my parents, was excited by explorations with friends in school and then developed in more systematic photo-documentation trips as an adult. In recent years teaching and family commitments have kept me from visiting the field as much as I would like. My interest in using GIS as a tool for teaching and learning has brought me back in touch with the Western Ghats, but this time through the lenses and sensors of distant earth observing satellites. In the last year I have been working with the latest Landsat 8 imagery and am thoroughly impressed with the quality of the imagery that is now publically available. This has led me to look back through NASA’S archives to find old imagery to conduct change detection with. This post highlights preliminary comparison of Landsat mages from 1973 and 2014.

The maps included in this post look at the block of the southern Western Ghats just below the Palghat gap where significant features illustrate momentous changes in the landscape over the last forty years. Both sets of images were collected in February, a time of the year when it is dry and there are cloud free days in the southern Western Ghats. The first image, however, was taken 42 years before the 2nd and thus offers a unique opportunity to compare the land cover changes in these hill areas. My particular interest here is the western plateau of the Palani Hills. This is an area that many generations of KIS students know well from the hiking program that took us to places like Vembadi Peak, Berijam Lake, Vandarvu and the Ibex Cliff area. Starting in the 1960s and 70s these areas experienced intensive silviculture based on the earlier designation of montane grasslands being “wastelands.” Few KIS students and faculty members appreciated that they were witness to a radical ecological reworking of the landscape. The net result has been a significant change in the ecology and landscape of the area. Vast areas of the shola/grasslands systems in the Vembadi-Berijam-Vandaravu area have experienced significant changes.

It is a complicated mosaic of vegetation, ecosystems and issues that is now in place on the upper plateau of the Palani Hills. As the 2014 Landsat 8 image illustrates, most of the Vembadi-Berijam-Vandaravu area is covered by non-native tree plantations but there are important sholas that thrive between them. Several invasive species are spreading beyond plantation boundaries and threaten the remnant grasslands. In some areas shola species are regenerating in and amongst non-native plantation species. Some feel that this will eventually give way to mixed forests of shola species and dying plantations. Logging of planation species has been largely curtailed though there is a move afoot in the Forest Department to remove exotic species. Much of the upper plateau area is of limits because of forestry rules that have sought to limit the impact of tourists and agricultural communities in the reserve forest (RS) zone. A Kodaikanal National Park is in the pipeline and its notification and boundary lines are expected in the near future. Nevertheless, human communities are pushing into outer areas as the township of Kodaikanal and its satellite communities expand. Gaur (Bos gaurus) populations are on the rise, felt mostly in urban areas rather than remote areas!

Looking south over the 2,000 meter high Eravikulam plateau from Kattu Malai. The sunrise highlights the extensive “downs” of the shola/grasslands complex that is uniquely preserved in this magical National Park. Anai Mudi’s distinctive hat profile is on the right horizon while the edges of the Palalni Hills are on the far left. My father Merrick and cousin Anna are at the edge taking in an unforgettable Western Ghats experience.

Looking south over the 2,000 meter high Eravikulam plateau from Kattu Malai. The sunrise highlights the extensive “downs” of the shola/grasslands complex that is uniquely preserved in this magical National Park. Anai Mudi’s distinctive hat profile is on the right horizon while the edges of the Palalni Hills are on the far left. My father Merrick and cousin Anna are at the edge taking in an unforgettable Western Ghats experience.

One feature that has remained relatively constant has been the shola/grasslands mosaic that makes up Kerala’s Eravikulam National Park and Tamil Nadu’s Grasshills (part of the Anaimalais Tiger Reserve). Comparing both the 1973 and 2014 maps shows that these areas of montane grasslands, interspersed with sholas, have stayed roughly the same. This perhaps is no accident since Eravikulam and Grasshills have both enjoyed protection in the midst of the flurry of tree planting in the adjoining ranges. The grasslands show up particularly well and contrast with the neighboring shola vegetation. This is most likely the result of winter frost that has dried out much of the exposed grass (and thus is not photosynthesizing).

Eravikulam will feature in a series of upcoming posts tentatively entitled the High Range Diaries but I have included a few images from my visits and explorations of the area in the 1990s.

View of Anai-Mudi & the Eravikulam plateau from the east. Scanned from 35mm color negatives.

View of Anai-Mudi & the Eravikulam plateau from the east. Note how the lowland tropical rainforest has been cut back to make room for tea estates. Anai-Mudi is on the left and the sheer granite cliffs that protect the park are obvious. These same cliffs provide a home for the most secure population of Nilgiri tahr. This was taken with my friend Rahul Madura on an Enfield tour of the area. Scanned from two 35mm color negatives. (December 1994)

Pine plantation in the Palani Hills near to Poondi.

Pine plantation in the Palani Hills near to Poondi.

The classic tourist view: looking west over Berijam Lake from the fire tower view point. In this image, the arm of Mathikettan Shola is clearly distinguishable from the uniform, tall eucalyptus plantation (extreme left and right). These trees were planted on montane grasslands in the 1960s and 70s in a program to increase biomass for fuel and tanning purposes. With the exiting Landsat imagery it is difficult to distinguish shola patches from such evergreen plantations. This makes accurate classification at this sale challenging. In the future, as the resolution of the satellite imagery improves, remotely sensed multi-spectral imagery should be able to make this distinction.

The classic tourist view: looking west over Berijam Lake from the fire tower view point. In this image, the arm of Mathikettan Shola is clearly distinguishable from the uniform, tall eucalyptus plantation (extreme left and right). These trees were planted on montane grasslands in the 1960s and 70s in a program to increase biomass for fuel and tanning purposes. With the existing Landsat imagery it is difficult to distinguish shola patches from such evergreen plantations. This makes accurate classification at this sale challenging. In the future, as the resolution of the satellite imagery improves, remotely sensed multi-spectral imagery should be able to make this distinction.

Index map for hill ranges of the southern Western Ghats using recent Landsat 8 multi spectral imagery.

Index map for hill ranges of the southern Western Ghats using recent Landsat 8 multi spectral imagery.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Be sure to read Farshid Ahrestani’s article “To cut or not to cut” published by Conservation India last month. It looks at the dilemma of what to do with the huge amount of non-native tree plantation biomass in the Palanis and other Western Ghats ranges. We visited Eravikulam together, through the good offices of KN Chengappa and Tata Tea, in 1993 and continue to share a passion for conservation issues in the Palanis and neighboring ranges. One of ours tasks is to collect historical imagery of the hill ranges and use these to cross reference with contemporary imagery to illustrate change at a terrestrial level (as is done in his article).

For information about interpreting false color satellite imagery, see Hollis Riebeek’s excellent article on the Earth Observatory website.

SCHOLARLY  (and  TECHNICAL) ARTICLES

Amaranth, Giriraj et. al. “Diagnostic analysis of conservation zones using remote sensing and GIS techniques in wet evergreen forests of the Western Ghats – An ecological hotspot, Tamil Nadu, India.” Biodiversity and Conservation. 12. 2331-1359, 2003. Print.

Joshi, Kumar P.K. “Vegetation cover mapping in India using multi-temporal IRS Wide Field Sensor (WiFS) data.” Remote Sensing of Environment. Volume 103 Issue 2. 30 July 2006. Web.2 April 2014.

Menon, Shally and Kamal Bawa. “Applications of Geographic Information Systems, Remote-Sensing, and a Landscape Ecology Approach to Biodiversity Conservation in the Western Ghats. Current Science. 73.2 (1997): 134-145.  Web. 30 March 2014.

Nagendra, Harini and Ghate Utkarsh. “ Landscape ecological planning through a multi-scale characterization of patterns: Studies in the Western Ghats, South India. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.  2003. Web. 30 March 2014.

Nagi, Rajinder.  “Using the Landsat image services to study land cover change over time.” ARCGIS Resources. 13 May 2011. Web.

Prakasam, C. “Land use and land cover change detection through remote sensing approach:  A case study of Kodaikanal taluk, Tamil Nadu.” International Journal of Geomatics and Geosciences. Vol 1, No 2, 2010. Web. 30 March 2014.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-04-04 at 7:24 pm

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

Sundarban Revealed: A Spatial Appreciation

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Landsat View of Sunderban. Click on image for full A3 100 dpi version.

Landsat View of Sundarban. Click on image for full A3 100 dpi version.

There is a forest at the northern end of the Bay of Bengal. It is a forest like no other and spread over a vast area where two of South Asia greatest rivers meet the sea after their long journey from the high Himalaya. The Sunderban is this vast, 10,000 square mangrove forest and it’s a place that in the 21st Century still embodies wilderness in its rawest, most beautiful and sometimes terrifying form.  Political boundaries separate it between Bangladesh and India but once inside the maze of mangrove trees there are few signs of any human presence. The area hosts impressive plant and animal diversity and is well as one of the most secure locations for wild tigers to breed in.

For the last 40 years NASA satellite shave been imaging the Sunderban and the results have produced some of the most enigmatic images of the earth’s surface. With the Landsat data achieve now available for public use I have been exploring recent imagery from the Landsat 8 satellite. The data that I processed and displayed in the above image is very fresh- it was collected in late January and early February this year by Landsat 8. It’s given me a chance to virtually revisit a forest that was once a favorite place to go to for birding and photography expeditions.

Collage of 6x6 format black & white images from visits to the Sunderban in the late 1990s. Taken from my www.highrangephotography.com site.

Collage of 6×6 format black & white images from visits to the Sunderban in the late 1990s. Taken from my http://www.highrangephotography.com site.

FURTHER LINKS 

Denzau, Gertrud et. al.  Living with Tides and Tigers – The Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. Dhaka, 2009. Print. See Web link for book. This book is produced by the most authoritative people on the Bangladesh Sunderban. This include Rubaiyat and Elizabeth Mansur and their colleagues Dr. Gertrud Neumann-Denzau and Dr. Helmut Denzau. I had the privilege of interacting with them all on several memorable trips into the Sundarban.

Chakravortty, Somdatta. “Analysis of end member detection and subpixel classification algorithms on hyperspectral imagery for tropical mangrove species discrimination in the Sunderbans Delta, India.” Journal of Applied Remote Sensing. 7(1), August, 2013. Web.

Chowdhury, Biswajit Roy. The Sunderbans: A Photographic Field Guide. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2007. Biswajit is a good friend who published my early work on Nilgiri tahr in Environ magazine. He is involved in wildlife conservation matters from his base in Kolkata.

Kolkata Birds Lead by the energetic Sumit Sen there are excellent trip reports, images and resources on major birding sites in West Bengal and the North Eastern States.

Lockwood, Ian. “Bangladesh’s Declining Forest Habitat.” Sanctuary Asia. June 1998. Web.  I wrote and photographed this with the idea of providing an overview of Bangladesh’s forest areas. The Sunderban features prominently in it.

Montgomery, Sy. Spell of the Tiger: Maneaters of the Sunderbans. New York: Houghton Mifflin 1995. Print.

NASA Earth Observatory. Sundarbans, Bangladesh. 15 October 2006. Web.

Sirajul Hussain Photography. (Facebook link) Siraj is an old friend who I exhibited with in Dhaka many years ago. He has some of the finest pictures of the Sunderban area.

The Guide Ltd. The best way to visit the Bangladesh Sunderban is with the family-run Guide Tours travel agency. Hasan Mansur and his family have been helping people to experience the Sunderban intimately for 20 or so years. I owe all of my best experiences there to them.

Note on etymology of Sundarban: there is some variation on the ways that Sunderban is spelt base on the source. The name can either be literally translated from Bengali as the “beautiful forest” or as a distinct name based on the dominant Sundari (Heritiera fomes) tree.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-02-27 at 7:55 am

Posted in GIS related, Landsat Images

Tagged with ,

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.

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