Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

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Sinharaja 2016 Geography IA Field Study

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As usual, Sinharaja offered many superb sightings of endemic rainforest creatures: Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in the Sinharaja core zone, flanked by two different frogs photographed near Martin’s Lodge.

As usual, Sinharaja offered many superb sightings of endemic rainforest creatures: Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in the Sinharaja core zone, flanked by two different frogs photographed near Martin’s Lodge.

Towards the end of the school year and before the South West monsoon set in OSC’s DP1 Geography class took its annual IA field study to Sinharaja rainforest. This was the 11th OSC field study at Sinharaja (the 2015 trip was our 10 year anniversary) and, like past visits, it offered an unparalleled opportunity for the students to engage in field work inside and along the edges of a protected Sri Lankan rainforest.

Keeping in mind the protected area and the impressive forest area that Sinharaja hosts, my students focused on investigating questions relating to human communities on the park boundaries. Using questionnaires and 1:1 interviews with residents they explored cropping, land use, water resources and tea patterns in the study area. There were strong spatial elements in the study that were later incorporated into their reports using GIS. This year we used relatively new 1:10,000 digital vector data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department as well as the most current population and housing data from the Sri Lanka Department of Census and Statistics.

Once again we stayed at Martin’s Wijeysinghe’s Jungle Lodge. Martin provided one of our first interviews, which helped set the stage for many more fruitful conversations. The Sinharaja Forest Department guides played a critical role in translating and being a bridge between our group and the local community. In many cases they took us to visit neighbors as well as their own families. We estimate that we were able to interview roughly 60% of the households in the Kudawa area. On our first full day of field work we were in the Kudaa village area and had a traditional lunch with Martin’s daughter’s family. On the second day we explored eastwards up a little used road to the family that has Sri Lanka spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata) visitors every morning. We only heard the bird but the students conducted several memorable interviews that morning. Our group of students was supported by Kamilla who joined us as a female chaperone and frog locater par excellence.

The field work was balanced with down time spent soaking tired feet in the nearby stream and climbing Moulawella on the final day. On our way out we had the good fortune to see a rare Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in a fern thicket. By that time the students had been inundated with views of rare birds, frogs, snakes but I hope that one day they’ll look back and realize what a special final sighting this was!

Interviewing Martin’s Wijeysinghe as part of the Geography IA study.

Interviewing Martin’s Wijeysinghe as part of the Geography IA study.

Snapshots from the field work in and around Sinharaja’s north western Kudawa entrance. The poster, now out of print, decorates the common area at Martin’s lodge.

Snapshots from the field work in and around Sinharaja’s north western Kudawa entrance. The poster, now out of print, decorates the common area at Martin’s lodge.

Students broke into two different groups so that we could maximize the interviews and responses that we collected. I had the opportunity to spend time with both groups as we covered different areas near Kudawa village. One of the memorable interview and conversations that we had was with a family that grew tea, cinnamon and various fruit in their home garden. We were welcomed into their home and were able to observe the process of cinnamon bark stripping. Just before we left they offered a freshly cut pineapple from their garden.

Students broke into two different groups so that we could maximize the interviews and responses that we collected. I had the opportunity to spend time with both groups as we covered different areas near Kudawa village. One of the memorable interview and conversations that we had was with a family that grew tea, cinnamon and various fruit in their home garden. We were welcomed into their home and were able to observe the process of cinnamon bark stripping. Just before we left they offered a freshly cut pineapple from their garden.

Miscellaneous snapshots from the Sinharaja rainforest area.

Miscellaneous snapshots from the Sinharaja rainforest area.

View looking west from Moulawella peak. On the final day we do a hike up to this point to give the class an appreciation for the Sinharaja area and the effort that has been made to protect its spectacular rainforests.

View looking north-west from Moulawella peak. On the final day we do a hike up to this point to give the class an appreciation for the Sinharaja area and the effort that has been made to protect its spectacular rainforests.

Sinharaja’s guides play a key role in any visitor’s experience in the rainforest. They are knowledgeable, hard working and patient with their clients. OSC enjoys a warm relationship with their team and we have enjoyed getting to know more about the rainforest and their communities through the guides. I was able to take this picture of most of them on one of our first days before people had arrived at the Kudawa ticket entrance.

Sinharaja’s guides play a key role in any visitor’s experience in the rainforest. They are knowledgeable, hard working and patient with their clients. OSC enjoys a warm relationship with their team and we have enjoyed getting to know more about the rainforest and their communities through the guides. I was able to take this picture of most of them on one of our first days before people had arrived at the Kudawa ticket entrance.

OSC’s Class of 2017 DP Geography students with Martin Wijeysinghe, their teacher (the author) and Kamilla.

OSC’s Class of 2017 DP Geography students with Martin Wijeysinghe, their teacher (the author) and Kamilla.

Past Blog Posts on Sinharaja

Geography IA Trip 2007

Geography IA Trip 2008

Geography IA Trip 2009

Geography IA Trip 2012

Geography IA Trip 2013

Geography IA Trip 2014

Geography IA Trip 2015

General Sinharaja Reflections

OSC's field study site in Sinharaja: a map crated with ARCGIS 10.4 and recently released 1:10,000 data from the Sri Lankan Survey Department.

OSC’s field study site in Sinharaja: a map created with ARCGIS 10.4 and recently released 1:10,000 data from the Sri Lankan Survey Department.

SELECTED REFERENCES

Abeywickrama. Asanga, Sinharaja Rainforest Sri LankaWeb. 2009.

DeZoysa, Neela and Rhyana Raheem. Sinharaja: A Rainforest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Gunatilleke, C.V.S, et al. Ecology of Sinharaja Rain Forest and the Forest Dynamics Plot in Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage Site.Colombo: WHT Publications, 2004. Print.

Harrison, John. A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. UK: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Kotagama, Sarath W and Eben Goodale. “The composition and spatial organization of mixed-species flocks in a Sri Lankan rainforest.” Forktail. 2004. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Wet: Field Notes From Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone.” Sanctuary Asia. August/September 2007. 3-11. Print. PDF.

Lockwood, Ian. “Montane Biodiversity in the Land of Serendipity.” Sanctuary Asia. July 2010. Print.

Sri Lanka Survey Department. Sheets 80_x & 81_x (1:10,000). Colombo: 2015. Maps & Spatial Data.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva.  Sri Lankan Wildlife (Bradt Guides). Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Ltd. 2007. Print.

Vigallon, S. The Sinharaja Guidebook for Eco-Tourists. Colombo: Stamford Lake Publications, 2007. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-11-17 at 10:54 pm

Sinharaja: Ten Year OSC Study Anniversary

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Primary forest near the north-western entrance to Sinharaja.

Primary forest near the north-western entrance to Sinharaja.

Two weeks ago OSC’s IB Diploma Geography class spent four days conducting field research in Sinharaja rainforest. This UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site located the south-western wet zone of the country is well known for its rich biodiversity. This was a significant trip -not only for the eight students and their two teachers- but for the 57 year-old school. This is the 10th anniversary of OSC geography field work in Sinharaja -a location that offers ideal conditions for student learning, inquiry and field work.

I had first visited Sinharaja in 2000 on a birding trip with my cousin Anna. It seemed like a natural choice of locations when I was asked to design the DP Geography Internal assessment (requiring field work) when I was hired to teach at OSC.  When we first started taking students to Sinharaja in 2005 we did so under the guidance of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka and their intrepid leader Professor Sarath Kotagama. Professor Kotagama, as well as dragonfly expert (and OSC parent) Karen Conniff, helped guide the original group of geography students. The focus of the early years’ field work was on ecosystems and biodiversity. This changed when the IB syllabus was revised and we transitioned to socio-economic, tourist and land-use studies. We’ve been privileged to stay at Martin’s Wijeysinghe’s Jungle Lodge during all this time. It continues to offer an ideal base for student field work, with access to the protected area, a range of habitats and home gardens.

Here is a brief review of the themes of ecology and geography that we have looked at over the years:

  • Tropical Rainforest Biodiversity in a “Biodiversity Hotspot.” Sinharaja is know as an exemplar lowland rainforest with very high levels of terrestrial diversity. Studies by notable academics at Peradeniya University, the University of Colombo and the Yale School of Forestry have documented and tracked plant diversity within Sinharaja. Others have studied the avian, amphibian, reptile and mammalian fauna. Professor Kotagama thinks that few other single forests have been as well documented as Sinharaja. Put together this provides a wealth of baseline data and information for any studies of the area.
  • Natural recovery of cleared forest areas: It was only 40 years ago that the area that is now well-trodden by ecotourists was being systematically destroyed as a part of a large-scale mechanical logging operation. Paradigms and attitudes about tropical forests have radically changed and today the same area has been allowed to recover. The recovery of the once logged areas is, frankly, mind-blowing! There is no perceptible evidence of the logging operations in Sinharaja today. It is a remarkable case study in tropical forest recovery with very little active attempts to restore the habitat. In recent years the Forest Department has been successfully working to thin pine plantations and restore native lowland rainforest species.
  • A model case study of ecotourism: Without intentionally trying, Sinharaja offers some of the most authentic opportunities for ecotourism in South Asia. The design of activities (walking, bird watching etc.), the low-impact accommodation and clear, benefit to the local community (through guiding and locally owned accommodation) help contribute to this. Sinharaja’s Kudawa gate on the north-west border is its most popular entry point. OSC students have been able to track numbers of visitors in the last 5-10 years and seen a steady growth of visitors. The calendar year has key high seasons with the winter (December to February) being the peak for visitor numbers. There are at least 3-4 times as many Sri Lankan visitors as foreigners, but because of ticket prices foreign visitors contribute more to the revenue. While some visitors are naturalists and bird-watchers most foreigners are curious beach revelers taking a day to explore a rainforest within reach of the coastal resorts.
  • Land use in the buffer and border areas of the protected area. The areas surrounding the PA boundary of Sinharaja highlight challenges to conservation. Many of these areas were only cleared for agriculture in the last 50-100 years. The dominant land use type is of home gardens (small land holding with a diverse range of fruit, vegetable and plantation species that are largely used for subsistence). Tea is now the  most preferred crop in many of the Sinharaja border areas. Unlike the high-grown tea, the tea in the Rakwana Hills is cultivated in small holdings (1-2 acres) by individual households (rather than large estates with their own labor, factories etc.). To better understand the cropping patterns we have been using 1:50,000 land use data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department in our GIS mapping of the area. This data is dated and we hope to acquire more up-to-date land use data to better understand trends in agriculture and land use.
  • Socio-economic studies of communities living on the edge of Sinharaja: OSC students have been able to conduct basics socio-economic surveys of communities living in the shadow of Sinharaja’s north-western border. DP Geography students have focused on energy choices, education, ecological footprints, housing and nutrition (for the first time this year).

The Class of 2016 geography class was a stellar group to take to Sinharaja. They embraced the learning opportunities, didn’t complain about the leeches, lack of cell phone connectivity and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the Sri Lankan cuisine cooked up by Martin’s daughter. Each of them explored an individual research question with the Sinhala speakers working overtime to help others with the translations of survey questions. Once again the Sinharaja guides were essential in helping us to better understand the area. They are a key bridge to the surrounding communities. Dr. Indrika Senaratna provided support in the interviews and fully took part in all aspects of the study. We look forward to many more years of OSC field work Sinharaja.

OSC in Sinharaja. Above: Class of 2006 wiht Martin, Professor Kotagama, Karen Coniff an others. Below:  Class of 2016 with Martin, Dr. Indrika and their teacher.

OSC in Sinharaja. Above: Class of 2006 with Martin, Professor Kotagama, Chaminda Ratnayake,Karen Coniff and others (taken October 2005). Below: Class of 2016 with Martin, Dr. Indrika and their teacher (taken May 2015).

A cacophony of diversity: Snapshots of Sinharaja's flora & fauna from the May 2014 IA field study.

A cacophony of diversity: Snapshots of Sinharaja’s flora & fauna from the May 2014 IA field study.

Class of 2016 field work in households and amongst home gardens on the Sinharaja boundary.

Class of 2016 field work in households, home gardens and shops on the Sinharaja boundary.

OSC study site in Sinharaja elevation map using the (relatviley)new 30 m SRTm from USGS/NASA.

OSC study site in Sinharaja elevation map using the (relatively) new 30 m SRTM from USGS/NASA. Click on the image for an A3 150 dpi version.

Past Blog Posts on Sinharaja

Geography IA Trip 2007

Geography IA Trip 2008

Geography IA Trip 2009

Geography IA Trip 2012

Geography IA Trip 2013

Geography IA Trip 2014

General Sinharaja Reflections

SELECTED REFERENCES

Abeywickrama. Asanga, Sinharaja Rainforest Sri LankaWeb. 2009.

DeZoysa, Neela and Rhyana Raheem. Sinharaja: A Rainforest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Gunatilleke, C.V.S, et al. Ecology of Sinharaja Rain Forest and the Forest Dynamics Plot in Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage Site.Colombo: WHT Publications, 2004. Print.

Harrison, John. A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. UK: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Ishwaran, Natarajan and Walter Erdelen. “Conserving Sinharaja: An Experiment in Sustainable Development in Sri Lanka.” Ambio. Vol. 19, No. 5. August 1990. Web.

Kotagama, Sarath W and Eben Goodale. “The composition and spatial organization of mixed-species flocks in a Sri Lankan rainforest.” Forktail. 2004. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Wet: Field Notes From Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone.” Sanctuary Asia. August/September 2007. 3-11. Print. PDF.

Lockwood, Ian. “Montane Biodiversity in the Land of Serendipity.” Sanctuary Asia. July 2010. Print.

Sri Lanka Survey Department. Sheets 80 & 81 (1:50,000). Colombo: 1994. Maps & Spatial Data.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva.  Sri Lankan Wildlife (Bradt Guides). Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Ltd. 2007. Print.

Vigallon, S. The Sinharaja Guidebook for Eco-Tourists. Colombo: Stamford Lake Publications, 2007. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2015-05-21 at 2:24 pm

Solid Waste Reduction Initiatives: The City, the School and the Home

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Compost at three  stages in our garden. The Vernier Labquest shows the temperature of each bin.  The active bin and temperature is on the left with a temperature of 47.1 C.

Compost at three stages in our garden. The Vernier Labquest shows the temperature of each bin. The active bin and temperature is on the left with a temperature of 47.1 C showing healthy levels of metabolic activity.

One of my struggles as a human being living in a 21st Century industrial, consumer-driven society is how to better live up to the ideals that are imbedded in the concepts that are a part of the course content that I teach. The IBDP Environmental Systems & Societies course promotes ideas of sustainability (defined roughly as the extent to which natural income is utilized without affecting the natural capital of a system). IBDP Geography also looks at sustainability but spend time on populations, resources and the broad concept of carrying capacity. In the IBDP Creativity Action & Service (CAS) course outline the issue of “considering ethical implications” of one’s actions are highlighted in the eight IB learning outcomes. One contemporary environmental challenge that I have made efforts to address since my days as an undergraduate student is the issue of solid waste. I see our home as a virtual laboratory to test just how much we can cut back and reduce our family’s ecological footprint. In this post I’ll review the recycling and solid waste situation at three different scales here in Sri Lanka.

THE CITY

Colombo faces significant solid waste challenges as it experiences rapid growth in the post conflict years. The problem is not so much one of human numbers but of human lifestyles with per capita consumption and solid waste generation going up. Local newspapers (see References below) highlight problems with disposal, tension in communities stuck with city waste and controversial plans to incinerate waste. Approaches to recycling have changes during the last 10 years that we have been living in Colombo. In 2006-7 the Colombo Municipal Council set up several eco-kiosks for consumers to drop off recyclables at. It was a nice idea, but from my observations and interactions, the eco-kiosks had a mixed rate of success. Some discerning citizens used them regularly and deposited loads of cleaned recyclable materials. However others treated them as places to toss unsorted waste. Without proper supervision, the two eco-kiosks in our area (Talawathagoda and Battaramulla) became foul-smelling, cluttered sites that few people wanted to use. They were closed down two years ago. Most households now rely on a municipal neighborhood solid waste collection service that comes by with a tractor and trailer every week. Households are requested to sort their waste into two broad categories (organic and non-biodegradable items). The municipal workers sort the waste into organic and non-biodegradable sections (see image above). Their tools are basic and they endure unsavory working conditions. Unfortunately these hard working teams are unrecognized for the key role that they play in the city’s environment. The waste is carted off to one of several sites where it might be further sorted and then is basically left to rot, with some of it being burnt. It is this reality that has been the subject of concern amongst citizens and environmentalists in the city.

Haphazard solid waste disposal and burning behind a major grocery store chain in the Pelawatte/Thalawathgoda neighborhood. The practice of burning waste, which often includes significant amounts of plastic and other synthetic materials is widespread.

Haphazard solid waste disposal and burning behind a major grocery store chain in the Pelawatte/Thalawathgoda neighborhood. The practice of burning waste, which often includes significant amounts of plastic and other synthetic materials, is widespread.

For a variety of reasons there is a high prevalence of small-scale waste burning in Colombo’s residential neighborhoods. Traditionally people must have lit small fires of leaf litter and other collected waste that is swept up at the end of the day. In our area (that falls under the Battaramulla municipality) many neighbors continue to burn mixed waste. One neighbor suggested that the burning is timed to suppress mosquitos. The problem is that now household produce a good deal of waste that is synthetic and this gets thrown on to these same fires. There are few days that we don’t pass by a fire with burning plastic, PVC, styrofoam and any number of other items. This obviously has serious health consequences.

How domestic solid waste is collected from our home in Pelawatte, Sri Lanka.

How domestic solid waste is collected from our home in Pelawatte, Sri Lanka.

 THE SCHOOL

OSC with its 500 + students, teachers, administrators and support staff produces a significant amount of solid waste that is collected by the Battaramulla municipal council teams. There is some sorting at the cafeteria where wet waste is partially separated from all other kinds. The OSC Recycling and Sustainability (R&S) project has a mission to reduce the volume of solid waste and raise awareness about environmental and sustainability issues on campus. The group has a stated goal of reducing the school’s ecological footprint. Its weekly activity consists of collecting recyclables from classrooms and offices. The recyclables are sorted and the data is recorded with the idea of studying long-term trends to see if the efforts to reduce are having any impact. The group also works on projects with the canteen and administration to reduce waste at source and promote energy conservation. Over the years we have had several notable and energetic student leaders including Olivia Molden, Yi Suel Shin, Yulia Alex Mylvaganam, Satyanshu Sapra, Jennifer Anderson, Constance Klemplin, Yoon Jae Hwang, Nishant Matthews and several others. See the blog link here  and below to get a sense of what the group has done in the last five years (the blog was started in 2010-11). Environmental issues also figure in course content in all three IB programs. The Primary School is very good about raising awareness about issues and the Middle Years Program (MYP) does studies on energy and ecological footprints. In the Diploma Program the Geography class uses the issue of solid waste and recycling to run field studies and surveys. This is shared with the wider OSC community through the weekly newsletter and R&S blog.

OSC recycling in action (from the top): Students in the Thursday afternoon R&S service activity collect and sort paper, cardboard and other materials outside the recycling room near the gym. DP Geography students weigh and sell cardboard to our main scrap dealer buyer who will resell it for recycling in India. DP R&S student leaders Nisala, Nandini and Nishant work with younger students on a reflection at the end of the Thursday service session. Data about patterns in consumption and recycling is gathered and analyzed as a key part of this activity.

OSC recycling in action (from the top): Students in the Thursday afternoon R&S service activity collect and sort paper, cardboard and other materials outside the recycling room near the gym. DP Geography students weigh and sell cardboard to our main scrap dealer buyer who will resell it for recycling in India. DP R&S student leaders Nisala, Nandini and Nishant work with younger students on a reflection at the end of the Thursday service session. Data about patterns in consumption and recycling is gathered and analyzed as a key part of this activity.

THE HOME

It must have been was growing up in Bangladesh where I learnt that there is no such thing as garbage; only resources. Nothing went to waste in Dhaka, from empty beer cans, to office paper and even plastic bags: all had real economic value that was obvious to most consumers. The key to Dhaka’s successful recycling had little to do with any government planning or fancy development plans. Instead an army of informal workers, each with their own basket and weigh scales, competed to buy, collect and sell whatever they could. Houses in the wealthy neighborhoods of Gulshan and Baridhara were lucrative areas to trawl. High-income lifestyles, especially amongst the foreign community, were relatively wasteful and generated large volumes of perfectly useful materials that could be resold for a decent amount. Extreme poverty helped drive some of this recycling dynamism but the resilience and work ethic of the families collecting and sorting through the materials (often in hazardous conditions) played a key role. Their efforts helped to significantly reduce the need for landfill space, incinerators or other methods traditionally resorted to in industrial societies.

Three stages of compost at home. The bins are made by Arpico and also marketed/promoted by the CEA.

Three stages of compost at home. The bins are made by Arpico and also marketed/promoted by the Sri Lanka Central Environment Authority (CEA).

Living in Pune I was exposed to ideas of composting and vermiculture. Ever since, our family has successfully been able to completely manage all of our own wet organic waste. Here in Colombo we have three bins that have waste being cycled through them. Because of the warm, humid temperatures in Colombo we can recycle most organic waste through the system relatively quickly. It takes about 3 months between the time that a bin is started and then emptied out into the garden. The opening set of pictures shows the temperatures of the three bins. Temperatures are high (@40-41 C°) in the active bin where metabolic activity is high. Then, as the compost breaks down, the temperature drops back down to normal air temperature (26-32 C°) as different organisms works to break down the waste. I’ve learnt to mix an equal amount of leaf litter/grass cutting with food waste in the bins. Any meat waste is kept out and feeds neighborhood dogs and monitor lizards. The plastic of the Arpcio compost containers is hardy and keeps most rodents at bay. I regularly roll the bins on the ground to aerate the compost. I also add a little water to the non-active bins to keep them moist and conducive for decomposers.

This is a rough estimate and breakdown of our household waste in terms of composition and weight (see table below).

This is a rough estimate and breakdown of our household waste in terms of composition and weight (see table below).

Table of Data 2

In Colombo we generate, what I would assume is, an average amount of solid waste, but based on my research we put out far less garbage than other similar families. Unlike many other houses in the area, our waste (mostly plastic packaging) is not mixed with rotting food (a source of unsanitary conditions and an invitation for stray dogs that like to open bags of mixed waste). Through a combination of active recycling and composting I believe that our household has been able to make major solid waste reductions. At the school and certainly at the city level there is still a great deal more that needs to be done. The issue of dealing with solid waste in a scientific and ecological manner is quite straightforward, while the bigger challenges of the country developing into a resource-consuming society looms with uncertain consequences.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Berenger, Leon. “Garbage Crisis growing by the day.” Sunday Times. 22 March 2009. Web. 23 March 2014.

Central Environmental Authority. Web. {this is the main Sri Lankan government body dealing with solid waste. See Waste Management Unit.}

Dissanayake, Chathuri. “Garbage collection waste deep in management and disposal.” Sunday Times. 15 September 2013. Web.

Ratnayake, Niranjanie. “Issues related to solid waste management in Sri Lanka.” The Daily News. 16 July 2012. Web. 23 March 2014.

Wipulasena, Aanya. “Waste rots, want lots.” Sunday Times. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2015-03-24 at 1:23 am

Using Remote Sensing Imagery for Teaching & Learning in the IB

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Colombo Landsat#1

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

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

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

Colombo Landsat #3

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

Colombo from Landsat 7 (2000)

Colombo from Landsat 7 (2000)

Colombo Band combinations with Landsat 8

Colombo Band combinations with Landsat 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by ianlockwood

2013-08-26 at 4:05 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-22 at 5:44 am