The Foundation gave awards in 2005 with a total of $2,500

Cryoconite holes in the arctic help search for life on other planets
Category: Using environments on Earth to understand other worlds / exobiology
Institution: University of Sheffield, UK

The surfaces of polar ice sheets and glaciers harbour life in small cylindrical melt pools that are called ‘cryoconite’ holes. They are formed by the solar heating of dark organic matter accumulating upon the ice surface. The melting of the water allows microbes to take up new nutrients from dust and atmospheric deposition, and recycle the old nutrients from organic matter. A little ecosystem then develops, sometimes entombed within ice for many years. Since these aquatic habitats persist in extreme cold environments, become desiccated during freezing, and are subjected to high UV radiation conditions, they are perfect analogues for examining possible microbial life on Mars and other icy planets. This project will contribute to the wider study of cryoconite biomass, productivity, microbial ecology and themodynamics on a Svalbard glacier in the European High Arctic. The project will apply high resolution aerial reconnaissance methods developed by a small UK-based company (HighSpy) to work out cryoconite biomass, distribution and morphology at the glacier scale for the first time. Their use of semi-autonomous aerial vehicles and image analysis techniques also mean that they will develop methods that can be applied to bioprospecting on the surface of other icy planets.

Mapping tropical savannas with remote sensing
Category: Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis
Institution: University of Edinburgh, Scotland

The biodiversity and carbon storage potential of the extensive (wooded) savannas of the tropics has, until recently, been unappreciated. As tropical savannas are relatively accessible, they are prone to human disturbances such as burning, cultivation and degradation. The Kyoto Protocol might shortly offer developing nations economic incentives to conserve wooded areas as natural carbon sinks. Ultimately, the success of conservation efforts and carbon sequestration projects will depend on the ability to comply with the requirements for accurate and regular mapping and monitoring of tropical savannas and their carbon stocks. This project is aimed at identifying the optimum methodology for using airborne radar data to map savanna vegetation and to estimate the above-ground woody biomass (i.e., carbon stock) of tropical savanna woodland. The study area is a tract of savanna in the Rio Bravo Conservation & Management Area (RBCMA) in northwest Belize, Central America. Results would contribute to the conservation efforts of The Programme for Belize, the NGO that manages the RBCMA. More generally, the findings will help the geomatics research community to evaluate the potential of spaceborne SAR sensors that are due to be launched into space over the next 2-3 years as part of global biomass monitoring projects.

Satellite technology helping understand important swamps
Category: Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis
Institution: University of Dundee, UK

A biogeographical time machine! Sounds like science fiction, but thanks to the technological advances driven mostly by our desire to explore outer space, we have the opportunity to unravel some significant issues in inner space. When we want to examine a particular site in terms of suggesting the best ways to conserve it, we often wish that we had started recording data many years before, to examine trends of change within the location, and possible impacts from recently recorded anthropogenic activity. Now we can! Using state of the art GIS, we will educate the satellite image (tell it what its looking at) by carrying out a ground survey. Since each individual plant species has a different fingerprint in terms of light reflected from its surface, we can then identify species on the GIS, and immediately collate distribution maps. Then, by using landsat images for the last 15 years, we can study change in distribution over time. This will provide a powerful insight into habitat change, and will open up an exciting approach for many other areas in the world.

Carnivorous animals benefiting from space exploration
Category: Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis
Institution: University of Brighton, UK

Sumatra is part of the Sundaland biodiversity hot spots in Indonesia where habitat loss is a widely reported threat to endangered carnivores such as tigers, clouded leopards and sun bears. In many cases little is known about the ecology or behaviour of these species and this severely hampers conservation efforts. This ten week project will create maps of the study sites using satellite imagery, carry out a baseline inventory of mammals, investigate species-habitat associations, and investigating how human disturbance affects the distribution of wildlife in the study sites in the west of the island. The data from our surveys have been urgently requested by the national park that we will be working in, and it will be fed into developing a local awareness program for forest communities. It will also be used to assess the impact of logging on forest mammal communities and will allow for the development of a sustainable management program for the area. A new multi-regional rapid biodiversity assessment for use throughout Indonesia, inside and outside protected areas will be created.

An important environmentally-linked disease tackled with satellites
Category: Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis
Institution: University of Newcastle, UK

Schistosomiasis is a highly contagious water-borne disease that is a leading cause of child morbidity in Tanzania and affects over 50% of people living there. The World Health Organisation believes the resulting socio-economic devastation is second only to that caused by malaria. The team of six undergraduates on this project will create a basic map of the prevalence of urinary schistosomiasis at four sites along the east bank of Lake Tanganyika by testing children’s urine and the snails found in the lake and rivers surrounding the villages. Data has not been collected in this area before and is desperately needed before a control strategy can be implemented by the Department of Health. The project is heavily reliant on Space Technology, especially in the form of GPS on site and Landsat images (Landsat 7 with ETM+) and DCW sourced .E00 files to present data.