Calculating remotely-sensed landscape heterogeneity as a proxy of species diversity in an Open Source environment
Category: Environmental projects using technologies resulting from space exploration
Institution: Duccio Rocchini, Fondazione Edmunch Mach, Italy

Measuring the heterogeneity of a landscape is important since it is closely related to species diversity at a range of spatial scales. Given the difficulties of field-based data collection, the use of the spatial variability of remotely sensed images for estimating environmental heterogeneity and (subsequently) species diversity represents a powerful tool since it allows for a synoptic view of an area with a high temporal resolution.

This is particularly relevant in view of the availability of recent Open Source systems for remotely sensed imagery analysis. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) tools (allowing an access to the source code) for assessing landscape heterogeneity at different spatial scales (e.g. different moving windows) are still lacking today. Such tools may allow the application of best-fit-based regression parameters at appropriate spatial windows of analysis, for predicting species diversity over a large region. The aim of this project is to propose a free and robust Open Source toolchain with its source code for calculating diversity indices from remotely-sensed imagery (and allowing an easy potential implementation of new metrics by multiple contributors globally), running under the widely used Open Source Software GRASS GIS.

A reconnaissance study of active faulting, earthquake hazard, and mountain building in eastern Kazakhstan
Category: Environmental projects using technologies resulting from space exploration
Coordinator and Leading Institution: Richard Walker, University of Oxford

This expedition has two aims. The first was to make reconnaissance observations of the faulting and bedrock geology on a route from Almaty to Zaysan Lake in eastern Kazakhstan. The tectonics of eastern Kazakhstan are virtually unknown at present though are likely to contain important constraints on the history of deformation. The second aim is to address the current scarcity of knowledge on the main faults of the region and assess their potential for generating earthquakes – information that becomes ever more important due to the continued growth of urban populations within central Asia. Slip-rates on two of the major active faults were calculated from the displacement of landscape features of known age (with ages determined using radiocarbon, optically stimulated luminescence, or cosmogenic isotope exposure dating).

Using Arctic spiders to explore how predators in extreme environments adapt to
environmental changes and how these adaptations affect community interactions

Category: Using the earth to help understand other worlds and to create a space-faring civilization and Environmental projects using technologies resulting from space exploration
Coordinator and Leading Institution: Amanda Koltz, Duke University

Understanding how organisms survive in extreme environments and how their adaptations affect the other species around them can provide important insight into the development of biological communities. Climatic warming is occurring faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet. While we know that Arctic animals are well adapted to living in an extreme environment, we have little idea of whether they are responding similarly to the warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons or whether differential responses by some species are causing changes in community dynamics. Research on species interactions in the Arctic is particularly important, because these food webs control the decomposition of the massive carbon pool stored in the Arctic soil and permafrost, which can in turn affect the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases at a global scale. This project University explored this issue with a focus on Arctic invertebrate communities with a focus on investigating whether environmental change stimulated changes in predators that are influencing the structure and dynamics of Arctic food webs. The project directly related to the Foundation’s objectives by addressing organismal adaptation to changes in extreme environmental conditions and through the use of satellite imagery (snowmelt images) to inform research.

Using Satellite Imagery to Map Reindeer Movements
Category: Use of space technologies to maintain the Earth as an oasis
Coordinator and Leading Institution: Dr. Jennifer Gebelein, Florida International University

The Norwegian landscape has supported reindeer herders and their way of life. The landscape supports the animals’ food requirements throughout all seasons as they are guided by the herders. However, during the past several decades the landscape’s predictability regarding those food sources has become less reliable due to the changing climate in that high latitude region and also due to anthropogenic impacts. This project was a case study focused on an area in northern Norway encompassing several annual reindeer migration routes used by the Sámi people. The specific focus was on how the vegetative cover (food source) has changed over time and thus how these food resources might be impacted by both climate changes in the past 30 years and introduction of natural resource infrastructures, using Landsat (30 meter resolution) data. The introduction of natural resource infrastructure (gas and some oil) takes up an enormous amount of space and can interfere with migration routes uses for hundreds of years by the herders. A combination of these two influences on the reindeer herding culture and physical environment can negatively impact the Sámi people’s way of life. Therefore, an assessment was completed over a portion of this region attempting to determine these types of impacts using Landsat data, ground-based GPS data, as well as indigenous knowledge. This combination of information was analyzed in a GIS environment. The purpose of this project was to test this methodology of blended information analysis and apply it to the area covering the migration routes and habitats for all reindeer in Norway.

Perceptions of outer-space in sub-saharan Africa An anthropological approach to space and environmental awareness
Category: Astronomy at the interface between Earth and Space Exploration
Coordinator and Leading Institution: Danielle Parkinson, University of Oxford

Through conducting both semi-structured, structured and open focus-group interviews on perceptions and cultural representations of space, across seven southern African countries – Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania, this project yielded a solid comparative and fruitful foundation for understanding how space studies and space exploration has a critical and vital role to play in future global conservation efforts. The key objectives of the project were to: 1) successfully cross the African continent by automobile, from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Namibia, to the coast of the Indian Ocean in Tanzania; 2) develop a first-hand understanding of issues pertaining to perceptions and methods of environmental conservation and space exploration along the route; 3) To maintain an online expedition diary documenting, photographic and film recording, and distributing the work to key departments and for individual sponsor concerns.

Aberystwyth University Kamchatka Expedition, 2011
Category: Using the earth to help understand other worlds and to create a space-faring civilization
Coordinator and Leading Institution: Colin Souness, Aberystwyth University

The surface of Mars supports a large quantity of frozen water, most of which (other than the ice locked up in the polar caps) is buried just beneath the dusy surface in the mid-latitude regions. Some of this ice has flowed, creating lobe-shaped tongues of icy material that are known as ‘glacier-like forms’. They certainly look a lot like Earth’s glaciers, but no-one is sure about exactly how they developed, whether or not liquid water plays a part in their behaviour, or exactly what forces are responsible for making them flow.

This project used glaciers on Earth to help answer these questions, travelling to Kamchatka in Russia where some glaciers are covered in volcanic ash. Despite the fact that Earths glaciers are well understood by science, this layer of ash makes these glaciers different to most others on our planet, leading to the development of many unusual surface patterns, some of which are similar to patterns seen on Martian glacier-like forms. By examining, mapping and photographing these glaciers in Kamchatka the project developed a better understanding of how known processes created these unusual patterns, enabling new theories on how Martian glacier-like forms have developed and how they continue to change. This helps in understanding more about recent Martian climate change and provides a better idea of how water behaves on Mars.