Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Posts Tagged ‘GIS

Mapping Montane Grasslands in the Palani Hills

leave a comment »

Remnants of a pine tree that had invaded a patch of remote grasslands and then been ring-barked in 2013 as a part of an effort to protect the last vestiges of native montane grasslands in the remote Palani Hills. In the background the undulating hills leading back to Berijam and Kodaikanal have been thickly forested with non-native plantation species.

Remnants of a pine tree that had invaded a patch of remote grasslands and then been ring-barked in 2012 as a part of an effort to protect the last vestiges of native montane grasslands in the remote Palani Hills. In the background the undulating hills leading back to Berijam and Kodaikanal have been thickly forested with non-native plantation species.

Over the last year a group of scientists, conservationists, photographers and citizens have been working on a unique collaborative project to document and map the remaining grasslands of the Palani Hills. Montane grassland and shola habitats are a distinct feature of the upper Western Ghats and have been the focus of my personal explorations, writing and photography of/about  the area. The grasslands mapping project, supported by INTACH,  seeks to quantify the change in montane grasslands and draw attention to areas that can be restored. Robin Vijayan, now on faculty at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERT,) in Tirupati is the coordinator. Other key stakeholders are associated with ATREE, NCBS and the Kodaikanal-based Vattakanal Conservation Trust. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department is a key partner and will be able to use the results to better plan restoration and management in the newly gazetted Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary. Regular readers of this space will see that there are familiar themes highlighted in past posts, notably the post on the plantations symposium in December 2014 and the “preliminary visual assessment” post from April that year. This post highlights efforts of the group and a visit to the southern escarpment to ground truth areas that had been mapped with satellite data.

Inspecting a plot of cleared plantation on the road to Berijam Lake. The idea was to restore grasslands by clearing plantation. This has proven very difficult, if not impossible to achieve despite the best intentions. Cleared plantation areas soon become infested with weeds and wattle seedlings. In this image, pioneer Daphniphyllum neilgherrense trees are visible amongst the debris of the cleared wattle plantation. These pioneer shola species came up amongst the wattle that had been planted on grasslands. Thus, what emerges in plots that are located close to mother sholas is a hybrid plantation-shola mix in what was once montane grasslands. Examples like this illustrate the challenge and complexity of shola/grassland restoration in the southern Western Ghats.

Inspecting a plot of cleared plantation on the road to Berijam Lake. The idea was to restore grasslands by clearing plantation. This has proven very difficult, if not impossible to achieve despite the best intentions. Cleared plantation areas soon become infested with weeds and wattle seedlings. In this image, pioneer Daphniphyllum neilgherrense trees are visible amongst the debris of the cleared wattle plantation. These pioneer shola species came up amongst the wattle that had been planted on grasslands. Thus, what emerges in plots that are located close to mother sholas is a hybrid plantation-shola mix in what was once montane grasslands. Examples like this illustrate the challenge and complexity of shola/grassland restoration in the southern Western Ghats.

In July I had a chance to participate in a four-day survey of montane grasslands in the remote Palani Hills as part of the grasslands mapping project. For several months of this year the grasslands mapping project has employed two young and energetic GIS/RS technicians Arasu and Danish. They have been systematically classifying the Landsat data from 1973 and 2014 and then “ground truthing” land cover across the Palani Hills. The result has been a series of computer-based maps and data sets that show historical grassland compared to their current extent. It is an unprecedented enterprise in the Palanis and the results are startling. The data and maps will eventually be available for key stakeholders and the wider public once there has been a rigorous review process.

Danish and Arasu had ground truthed most of the upper Palanis Hills areas by June but the high plateau between Berijam and Vandaarvu was un-surveyed due to strict permissions regarding access to this core area of the sanctuary. It is an area that I have been visiting on and off since I was a student at Kodaikanal International School in the early 1980s –thus my role was to guide the group to some of the key places where there are still grasslands. We were joined by National Geographic explorer Prasenjeet Yadav who has been contributing his time and photographic talents to document the themes of the project.

The Berijam to Vandaravu area has experienced significant change as grasslands have been replaced with non-native plantations during the last 40 years. In the last two decades I have been more systematically documenting landscapes and key aspects of the ecology in the Palanis Hills and wider Western Ghats. Land cover changes are a particular interest brought about by personal experience (several generations of our family have explored the ranges). I have traditionally used a camera to document observations but increasingly I have been turning to remotely sensed images that can be used to monitor and measure land cover change.

Danesh taking data points at a rare grasslands patch on the way up to Ibex Peak. Behind stretches a view to Berijam and beyond-now all under thick forest cover.

From top left to bottom right: Danish taking data points at a rare grasslands patch on the way up to Ibex Peak. Behind stretches a view to Manavanur and beyond-now all under thick forest cover. Close up views of Mapit logging attributes and getting a GPS point.

From top left to bottom right: Cutting through fallen pine trees on the road to Katrikodai from Berijam. Prasen inspecting steep slopes and remnant grasslands at Prayer Point near Marion Shola. Danesh with forest guards logging a point on Mapit.

From top right to bottom left: Cutting through fallen pine trees on the road to Katrikodai from Berijam. Prasen inspecting steep slopes and remnant grasslands at Prayer Point near Marion Shola. Danish with forest guards logging a point on Mapit.

The visit to Kathcikiriodai and Ibex Peak in July gave our small party a good sense of how little natural grasslands are left in the Palani Hills while also appreciating the complexities that the plantation ecology have brought about. Initially we were delayed by fallen pine trees on the road (the old Kodai-Cochin road) and our team had to spend the night at the Berijam FD bungalow. On the second day Bob & Tanya drove us up to the road blocks and then we trekked into Kathcikiriodai. On our walk to Kathcikiriodai it occurred to me that there are only two types of grasslands surviving in this area: marsh grasslands and patches of non-native grasses growing on areas that used to be coop camps for woodcutters (when the area was actively logged). Otherwise everything else is plantation with virtually no shola (Marion Shola has a healthy shola and there must be a few others away from the road).

Grassy patch of non native grass species in an area that was once a coop shed where Sri Lankan repatriates worked to plant and harvest non-native timber species. I have memories of walking by remote, squalid camps in the 1980s during our hiking program.

Patch of non-native grass species in an area that was once a coop shed where Sri Lankan repatriates lived while working to plant and harvest timber species. I have memories of walking by remote, squalid camps in the 1980s during our school’s hiking program.

Forest guards taking out a young pine tree invading cliff side grasslands near Ibex Peak.

On the afternoon of Day 2 we visited Marion Shola, its dilapidated bungalow and the nearby cliffs. There had been a fire on the cliff edge-formerly grasslands abut now invaded with mostly eucalyptus. We revisited the site on the last day and were able to get a much better sense of the habitat, land use and awesome cliffs. We spotted a small herd of Nilgiri tahr (in close proximity to a bonnet macaque troop) several hundred meters below us. We appreciated the significant montane grasslands that crown the Agamalai range to the south – not in our study as they fall in the Theni district.

We had our most significant day on Tuesday July 19th when we trekked with four forest guards out to the Ibex Peak cliffs. We were blessed with sunshine and clear weather for the first crucial hours of the trip. On the way we passed though a few native grasslands patches as well as areas where grasses coexisted under thin eucalyptus plantation (Danish mapped and photographed all of these). I was alarmed at the cliff edge where it seems to me the wattle and pine is making advances into the strip of 30m or so grasslands that was never originally planted. The 2013 restoration efforts were visible (dead, leafless pine, and trunks with rings). However, as Bob Stewart later reiterated, it can not be a single effort and more, regular work needs to be done if these last grasslands are going to be saved. We walked up to Ibex Peak (2, 517 m), explored the marsh below it, which is still in very good shape and then headed back to Kathcikiriodai a little after noon. By that time the whole cliff area was covered in mist.

Scenes of grasslands on the path to Ibex Peak showing varying levels of invasion by non-native timber plantations.

Scenes of grasslands on the path to Ibex Peak showing varying levels of invasion by non-native timber species.

Interestingly, we heard some of the key shola species as we walked through the plantations-White Bellied Blue Robin (Myiomela albiventris), Black and Orange Flycatcher (Ficedula nigrorufa), Nilgiri Wood Pigeon (Columba elphinstonii) and Kerala Laughing Thrush (Trochalopteron or Strophocincla fairbanki). There was a pair of Nilgiri pipits (Anthus nilghiriensis) at Kathcikiriodai -apparently content amongst the non-native grasses and remnant marsh habitat. We photographed two different shrub frogs, found a Salea sp. (most likely anamallayana) in the burnt out eucalyptus and came across a shieldtail on the walk out (near one of the coop patches). The only gaur we saw was a herd from near Ibex Peak. There was significant elephant dropping evidence along the roads.

The four forest guards provided important support to our group and I gained a new appreciation for their role. Two accompanied us from Berijam and another two were based at Kathcikiriodai. They are clued into restoration and removed pine saplings from our path to Ibex Peak (at least one of them had worked with VCT on the cliff restoration initiative four years ago). They are however not well supported and have minimal equipment. They had no working wireless and with no cell phone connectivity and they are completely on their own! After trekking with forest guards and staff in other PAs in south India I feel that much more could be done for these men and their important work.

At the escarpment edge just east of Ibex Peak, the 2nd highest peak in the Palani Hills. These are the crucial grasslands that have been identified to be saved from encroaching invasive species. Our survey found them still intact but under pressure as pine, wattle and even eucalyptus spread beyond their original plantation boundaries.

At the escarpment edge just east of Ibex Peak, the 2nd highest peak in the Palani Hills. These are the crucial grasslands that have been identified to be saved from encroaching invasive species. Our survey found them still intact but under pressure as pine, wattle and even eucalyptus spread beyond their original plantation boundaries.

We made several important observations over the course of our survey:

  • Almost all the plateau’s montane grasslands area from Berijam to Vandaravu was planted with non-native timber plantations species in the last 40 years. This is supported by satellite evidence and terrestrial photographs from the 1960s and 70s. There are virtually no unplanted grasslands areas unless they contained shola or the soil was too thin.
  • There are several small grasslands patches on the road to Kathcikiriodai and Marion Shola. Remembering experiences from my school hiking days I am reminded that these are former coop shed camps that housed labor (often Sri Lankan repatriates) planting and harvesting timber. The patches do not support native grasslands but appear to provide fodder for herbivores (gaur, sambar).
  • Several large and medium-sized marshes in the area were left unplanted (for obvious reasons). These still exist, though there is some invasions of pine. One large marsh (10.168704° N, 77.366623°E) was dammed to provide drinking water (Konalar dam) for Poondi and Kavanji villages. Its lake now extends all the way to what used to be known as First Trout’s Stream.
  • Shola regeneration in the plantations between Berijam and Kathcikiriodai is extremely limited other than the beginning where plantations adjoin the Temple Shola near the Berijam FD camp. It illustrates the apparent fact that without a “mother shola” there is limited spread into plantations.
  • Plantations appear to have been planted to approximately 30 meters of the escarpment edge (a very abrupt border). These edges once supported remnant montane grasslands and were important for Nilgiri tahr and other herbivore populations. However, most of these edges have now been invaded by plantation species. The Ibex Peak cliff to Ullam Pari grasslands are some of the last remaining patches but these are experiencing invasion (see photos).
  • The May 2012 restoration work by VCT arrested some of this invasion in a limited area. However, it needs to be a regular intervention if these critical grasslands are to be saved from being overtaken by plantation trees.

In conclusion, I want to put in a special word of thanks to VCT for organizing the permissions and the drop off and pick up. My colleagues Prasen and Danish were excellent company. We are grateful to the TN Forest Department for facilitating the survey and providing us with the guards and accommodation at Kathcikiriodai. I am looking forward to making further contributions to the project and effort to protect this part of the Western Ghats.

The maps that are referred to earlier, as well as my own tinkering with spatial data, will be shared in a future post.

 

PAST BLOG POSTS & PUBLICATIONS

Lockwood, Ian. “Recent Publications.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 11 November 2015. Web.

“         “Forest Plantations and Biodiversity Conservation: A Symposium in the Palani Hills.” Ian Lockwood Blog. December 2014. Web.

“         “Land Cover Changes in the Palani Hills: A Preliminary Visual Assessment.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 4 April 2014. Web.

“         “Landscape and ecology in India’s Western Ghats: A Personal Odyssey.” Asian Geographic. July 2008. Print & Web.

“         “Restoring Montane Grasslands in the Palani Hills. Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2012. Web.

“         “On the southern rim of the Palani Hills (Part II). Ian Lockwood Blog. September 2011. Web.

“         “On the southern rim of the Palani Hills (Part 1). Ian Lockwood Blog. September 2011. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-08-22 at 11:56 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2015

leave a comment »

Screen shots of a Storymap utilizing base layers from National Geographic with layers of spatial data from Sri Lankan sources. The bottom map utilizes the Stamen Water color tint and is also layered with a n urban areas layer sourced from IWMI.

Screen shots of a Storymap utilizing base layers from National Geographic, simple annotations and layers of vector data from Sri Lankan sources. The bottom map utilizes the Stamen Water color tint and is layered with an urban areas layer sourced from IWMI ( see the links to actual story in the text).

The GIS program at the Overseas School of Colombo continued to evolve and adapt to broader technological changes in the school and world in 2015. The most significant development has been the school’s move away from campus-based servers to cloud-based applications and online data.

For the past seven years we have been running a small, but robust, GIS introduction program for students using desktop applications on computers in common spaces such as the library. Instruction has been based on using ESRI’s ArcMap desktop applications that are bundled with extensions as part of an annually renewed license. This represents a significant investment of the school in the software, provided locally by GIS Solutions Pvt. Ltd. I have also explored using QGIS and regularly utilize Google Earth, MyMaps and other freely available software. At the moment I am the only teacher providing the skills so it has been difficult to get all classes on board but I have been evangelizing colleagues to get them to weave GIS into their science and humanities units. In the 2015-16 school year students had to have their own laptops as a part of a 1:1 tech program and most of the desktop computers were phased out. One clear benefit of this is that all students can access ArcGIS Online regardless of their platform (ArcMap desktop was never available for Macs). Loading the desktop software on multiple machines is cumbersome and so the online options save time and hassle. Necessity being the mother of invention, I have been adjusting many of the DP Geography exercises that I had developed on ArcMap desktop to ArcGIS Online. Bandwidth and Internet speed is still an issue and for my own mapping and remote sensing work I prefer to use ArcGIS desktop. In the last two years I have refined my cartography with maps on Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, the southern Western Ghats and Landsat imagery over the Pune Sahyadris.

Screen shot of Maptia story on Kukkal (created in 2014).

Screen shot of Maptia story on Kukkal (created by the author in 2014). This is not a spatial platform but Maptia offers a dynamic way to share digital stories that emphasize fine photography.

New Opportunities in Digital Storytelling

One of the dynamic tools that has been introduced by ESRI alongside ArcGIS Online is StoryMaps. This online software allows users to create visual story lines that incorporate narratives, images, videos and maps. There are a variety of templates to set your Storymap up and you can utilize a treasure trove of online maps to illustrate your story. You can also load up your own spatial data and overlay this raster and vector data on the base maps to help tell a compelling story. Storymaps has excellent potential for teaching and learning and I have deployed it in the DP Geography classes to give students an alternative way to create case studies that are a key part of their course preparation ahead of the IB exams. To model this potential I have built a story around OSC’s Experiential Education program.

StoryMap table of contents showing layers and projects.

StoryMap table of contents showing layers and projects.

While story maps is ideal for sharing narratives that have spatial aspects there are other options for sharing visual narratives. Maptia is one free service that I have experimented with to tell a visual story. It offers impressive visual opportunities to share high quality images and a meaningful story. The numerous examples emphasize epic adventures and fine photography but could also serve as a vehicle for students to share learning from school trips and learning experiences. I used a story that I had written up about hiking in the Palanis for my first project entitled “Kukkal: Beyond the Last Ridge.” Maptia would be an ideal platform for students to share learning from experiential education – something I am trying to promote with colleagues at OSC.

ASB Unplugged Workshop

In February 2016 I will be giving a workshop at ASB Unplugged in Mumbai entitled “Geospatial Teaching & Learning: Opportunities, Applications, and Ideas.” The aim of this workshop is to help educators understand some of the developments and opportunities for geospatial learning in middle and high school programs. There will be some direct sharing of my experiences but will have hands-on opportunities to try out some of the free web-based applications. Here’s what I have written up in the workshop description:

In the last decade huge advances have been made with making remotely sensed (RS) images of the earth available to the public. Google Earth helped popularize and introduce Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to the wider public as a free web-based application. While GIS software once had a reputation for being both expensive and cumbersome to use, developments in commercial software (ESRI’s ArcGIS platform) and freeware such as Q-GIS now make it accessible to anyone interested. The cost of remotely sense imagery is now within reach of organizations and much of this is in the public realm. At the same time growing concerns about changes on the planet associated with rapid economic development have provided a real need for better analytical tools. GIS and remote sensing helps us to better understand and address these changes.

 International Schools are beginning to use GIS in their secondary school curricula following on the heels of North American schools that have geography standards that incorporate GIS (see AAG links below). Given the rapid change in software and hardware options it can be a daunting program to add on to a school’s already packed curriculum. GIS and RS offer ideal opportunities for inquiry-based, interdisciplinary learning in international schools settings.

 The workshop will highlight examples from the IB Middle Years and Diploma Programs. A unique part of the presentation will share details on developments in South Asia and ways that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is sharing data through its Bhuvan platform.

 

PAST GIS AT OSC Posts

 

REFERENCES FOR GIS TEACHING & LEARNING (2015 Update)

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

Fox, Lawrence. Essential Earth Imaging for GIS. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press: 2015. Print.

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.

Harder, Christian. The ArcGIS Book: 10 Big Ideas About Applying Geography to Your World. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press: 2015. Print & Web.

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

GIS Geography. Web.

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, Seventh Edition. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2011. 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 & Online Resources.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-01-12 at 10:54 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2014

with one comment

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.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-11-26 at 5:04 pm

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

with 5 comments

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.

Using Remote Sensing Imagery for Teaching & Learning in the IB

with one comment

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

GIS Developments at OSC in 2012

with one comment

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.

705977_10151319068888156_1803255216_o

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

with 5 comments

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