2008

Investigations on Mars and Europan analog glaciers in the Arctic
Category: Using the Earth to help understand other worlds and to create a space-faring civilisation
Institution: Swansea University, Wales

Mars and several other celestial objects (e.g. Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon) in our solar system have surface ice or are constituted by ice. One of the priorities of planetary science is to measure the properties of extraterrestrial ice (e.g. thickness and structure) to understand these planetary bodies and possibly even their potential as habitats for life. As extensively demonstrated in the Antarctica, the most efficient way to map and image the internal structure of ice sheets and ice masses is using geophysical techniques such as ground penetrating radar (GPR) and seismic surveys. In order to understand the properties of extraterrestrial ice we need firstly to test and validate our understanding of the propagation of the electromagnetic and seismic waves in terrestrial ice. In this project the velocity of propagation of radar and seismic waves in glacier ice in the high Arctic (Svalbard) and in the Swedish Arctic was studied. The project investigated how the volumetric water content, the shape and the arrangement of water and air bodies in glacier ice affects the propagation velocity of both acoustic and electromagnetic energy. These data will be used in dynamic models of glacier response to climate change and will constitute significant progress in the methods of measuring ice thickness and ice properties of any ice mass, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial.

Analysis of volcanic eruptions from space
Category: Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis
Institution: Open University

There are more than 100 active volcanoes in the Alaska-Aleutian-Kamchatka region. These volcanoes pose a threat both to local communities and air traffic, with multiple volcanoes erupting multiple times per year. Worldwide ash from volcanic eruptions caused more than $250 million worth of damages between 1980 and 1998. Only half of the active volcanoes in the AAK region are seismically monitored, a few are geodetically monitored and the remainder are monitored solely by remote sensing. This means that remote sensing data is paramount to monitoring this region.

This project focuses on bringing multiple types of data together to gain a better understanding of the types of signals that are observed in the satellite data. The focus is specifically on precursory signals to explosive eruptions as these will aid in predicting when these volcanoes will erupt. Results of this work will be actively used in the daily operational monitoring at the Alaska Volcano Observatory and will aid in saving property and lives.

Debris Flow Gullies in Iceland – how do they affect our understanding of water on Mars and the local population?
Category: Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis and
Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis

Institution: Open University

Fieldwork was undertaken in the Westfjords of Iceland in 2008. The objective was to provide a full morphological description of debris flows above the town of Ísafjörður, with a twofold aim:

  • 1) to use that information to assess the presence or absence of debris flows on Mars and,
  • 2) to improve the understanding of the physics of debris flow to aid in local hazard planning.

Liquid water is not stable on the surface of Mars today, however recently-formed kilometre-scale gullies have been observed on the martian surface. These gullies look like they were formed by liquid water, which forms a paradox. This project explored the possibility that instead they were formed by debris flow, which only involves about 10% water. A debris flow is a rapidly moving slurry of rocks (sometimes big boulders) and mud and produces very distinctive landforms on Earth. Gullies on Mars are visually very similar to debris flows in Iceland, but measurements need to be made on both planets to confirm this. The data collected in Iceland in 2007-8 forms a solid dataset for comparison to data from Mars. Preliminary comparison of the two planets has shown that the gullies on Mars are the same shape as gullies in Iceland, but further analysis is needed. If debris flow is an active process on Mars, then this requires recently active water on the martian surface. If the presence of liquid water is confirmed it means that there is a greater prospect of finding life on Mars and a better outlook for future human exploration.

The data collected on debris flows in Iceland has also allowed the project scientists to calculate the volumes of the debris flow deposits and how far they have travelled. The boulders in the flows pose significant risk to the population of the town, where houses are positioned directly beneath the most active part of the slope (large debris flows have been recorded every four years). The calculations of volumes have shown that that protective ditch above the houses is not able to contain even 10% of a small flow. Working with local researchers and using data from 2007 previous calculations will be refined and used to develop a model of the debris flow motions to help to predict run-out distances and direction.

Maldives Whale Shark Research Expedition 2008
Category: Use of space technology to maintain the Earth as an Oasis
Institution: Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme

The expedition used a range of technologies resulting from space exploration to establish why large aggregations of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), form within the South Ari seas, Republic of Maldives during the boreal spring. A number of parallel studies was used to document and investigate whale shark ecology including:

Utilising geographic information systems (GIS) to conduct a bathymetric survey of the study area to aid in the identification of oceanographic processes potentially influencing whale shark behaviour;

Using satellite imagery of marine chlorophyll concentrations to ascertain if whale shark aggregations can be predicted from the remote sensing of phytoplankton densities;

Documenting the location of whale sharks using a Global Positioning System (GPS) handset to establish correlations between environmental parameters and behavioural ecology.

In addition, work to establish a regional standard and promote sustainable whale shark encounter management guidelines continued in consultation with local communities, industry stakeholders and government bodies. Students and staff from the Villa College Faculty of Marine Studies and Water Sports were trained in fieldwork and analysis techniques.

Detecting agricultural abandonment and quantifying its drivers in post-socialist Eastern Europe
Category: Using Space to help maintain the Earth as an Oasis.
Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison

The collapse of the Socialist Block in Eastern Europe caused substantial changes in the livelihood of people and economies. Those dramatic changes had a significant effect on land use, for instance agricultural land abandonment. Agricultural land abandonment by itself causes a bidirectional effect on biodiversity, defragmentation of forests in Eastern Europe and changes in potential carbon sequestration. Recent attempts are being made by the UN to encourage Central Eastern European countries governments to return those lands into agriculture production. From statistical sources in Russia 20 million hectares of arable land were abandoned after the collapse of USSR. Statistical data brings a lot of concerns -real spatial extent and quantity of abandoned agriculture lands is unknown.

Remote Sensing data analysis is a valuable approach to investigate this problem and its extent at fine-scalee. The objective of this project is to investigate the extent, fine-scale and macro-scale drivers of land abandonment across several Eastern European countries between 1989 and 1999. The study region crosses four former USSR republics (please see Figure 1) and portion of former Socialist Poland. Few attempts were made to study post-socialist land abandonment. This project uses an interdisciplinary approach by integrating remote sensing data to detect land abandonment (6 Landsat scenes), using machine learning classifiers, socio-economic data (statistical census data at county like ‘rayon” level) and ancillary data (Soviet topographic maps) and qualitative interviews.