Yale Research to Study Environmental Degradation and Land Use of African Savannas and Rainforests

Yale researchers are using state-of-the-art satellite imagery to study the environmental conditions of west and central African savannas and rainforests.

One goal is to estimate the impact of land use changes on food production, on climate change, and habitat diversity.

“The extraordinary threats to the environment occurring in this region make our study both timely and important to policymakers,” said Professor Mark Ashton of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the principal investigator of the study. “Population pressures along with resource extraction and civil strife are degrading the environment and affecting the ability of people to live on the land.”

The research funded with a $571,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will focus on ecological regions found in the area: the primary forest, degraded forest, derived forest, forest margin, derived savanna, Southern Guinea savanna, and Northern Guinea savanna. The countries covered in the study are Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Republic of Benin.

Ashton said researchers will use the latest remote sensing technology, as well as images taken from previous years, to characterize and quantify the land use changes occurring in the region, including the extent of forest change from logging and slash and burn agriculture.

The researchers will use a series of three transects, which are a system of measurement, from the rain forest in the south nearing the equator to the northern arid areas nearing the Saharan desert. Researchers will visit sites along the transects to validate the sensor data.

Dr. Prasad Thenkabail, a co-principal investigator and associate research associate at Yale’s Center for Earth Observation of the Geology Department, said, “We want to see whether we can detect from satellite images more refined levels of compositional changes in forests and more discreet vegetation types that have not been refined or defined before. This in turn will allow us to pursue our overall goal of assessing the strengths and limitations of various sensor data in establishing quantitative and qualitative measures of environmental change.”

The information will also be used to build carbon sequestration models, which can predict how much carbon is being lost from forest clearance and is helpful in understanding the impact on global climate change.

Researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) , based in Nigeria, are major collaborators on the study.

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