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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

GIS and remote sensing application for assessment of land degradation in the Lower Mekong River Basin

PI: Quyet Vu (, Soils and Fertilizers Research Institute
U.S. Partner: John Bolten, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Goddard Space Flight Center
Project Dates: December 2016 - November 2018

Project Overview

Land and forest are being overexploited in the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB) due to the pressure of rapid economic development and high population growth. These factors may impact the functions and services of land ecosystems, including biomass productivity. Because human livelihoods in the LMB still rely strongly on agricultural production, land degradation will be a significant issue for development strategies. In tropical regions, poverty and land degradation are often part of a downward spiral: poverty and economic marginalization lead to overexploitation of land resources, resulting in land degradation, which then leads to more serious poverty. To combat land degradation, policy makers often need information to identify areas of most intense degradation in order to plan strategic interventions. The specific objectives of this project include
  • Producing a map of geospatial biomass productivity decline for the LMB (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand), using long-term biomass productivity trends as a proxy for land degradation;
  • Differentiating human-induced land degradation from climate-driven signals by examining the temporal correlation between long-term biomass productivity trends and climate data; and
  • Identifying potential underlying processes (population density, soil/terrain conditions, and land-cover types) that affect land degradation.
The map of land degradation hotspots to be created may help researchers and policy makers identify locations in the LMB where more detailed actions may be required. Through project activities, team members will improve their research capacity and knowledge regarding applications of geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) for assessing natural resources. Land degradation is also linked with biodiversity loss and climate change at the global and local levels, so this project should also help to serve as a reference database for further studies on climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation of emissions from land use in the agriculture, land cover, and forestry sectors. The project team will be supported by U.S. partner Dr. Bolten, who has experience in remote sensing research in the same region. He and other NASA colleagues will check the Vietnamese researchers’ analyses and calculations of geospatial data and contribute their expertise to other project activities, including technical workshops and joint publications.

5-257 Kickoff Meeting5-257 Map Data Verification
The team introduces the project to the local research community.Key team members review available maps and satellite images.

Summary of Recent Activities

The main technical activities carried out by Dr. Vu and his team during the last quarter of 2017 focused on examining trends of biomass productivity over last three decades using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) MODIS data. They also downloaded land cover maps for the Lower Mekong Basin region from the SERVIR-Mekong program and prepared them for use in identifying potentially underlying processes of land degradation. In addition, they resampled the Digital Elevation Model for the LMB produced by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission to 1km resolution. The data will be used to calculate the terrain constraints (e.g., slope) for identifying potentially underlying natural processes of land degradation.

The project team attended the GIS training conference “Water Resources Security and Climate Change,” which was held at Quy Nhon University, Vietnam, from November 30 through December 2, 2017. At the conference, the team presented their PEER project activities and showed their results from inter-annual NDVI trend analyses, receiving positive feedback from the participants present. Their 10-page paper entitled “Analyzing the trend of AVHRR NDVI time-series to identify the hotspots of land degradation in the Lower Mekong River Basin countries” was published in the conference proceedings. While at the conference, the PEER researchers met many professors, doctors, lecturers from universities (Hanoi University of Agriculture, Quy Nhon University, Vietnam National University, Nong Lam University, Can Tho University, etc.) and research institutions. This meeting opened up opportunities for them to connect to the broader research community and explore the potential for further collaboration. Before the conference, the project team also participated in the Google Earth Engine Training organized and supported by Vietnam National University and Quy Nhon University with technical support from USAID and NASA as partners involved in the SERVIR-Mekong program. At this training Dr. Vu and his colleagues learned about the platform and some applications for using the Google Earth Engine for water resource management and land cover mapping. By connecting with SERVIR-Mekong during this training, they gained the opportunity to access and use the LMB land cover maps that the program has recently produced. The researchers also met another PEER Cycle 5 PI, Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong of Tay Nguyen University, shared their experiences in working with remote sensing and carried out other work related to their PEER projects.

Dr. Vu and a colleague are currently planning a three-week visit to the School of Earth, Ocean, and the Environment at the University of South Carolina March 15 through April 5, 2018. They will be hosted by Dr. Venkat Lakshmi, a long-time colleague of their U.S. partner Dr. John Bolten of NASA. Dr. Lakshmi is a leading expert in global hydrology and remote sensing, and he will provide training to the Vietnamese scientists on applications of GIS and satellite remote sensing for land management and environmental studies. In addition, Dr. Vu and his team are also working to organize an interim workshop to present and discuss the results from the first year of their PEER project. About 20-30 participants will be invited from various research organizations in Vietnam, representatives of USAID Vietnam, and policy makers and government officials who are interested in the research topic. Finally, they will also be continuing their work to download and analyze relevant data in order to identify potentially underlying processes of land degradation (e.g., population density, soil/terrain constraints, and land-cover types, etc.) from available sources. Subsequently they will analyze the relationship between the types of land degradation identified and the potential determinant factors to gain a better understanding of the processes underlying land degradation.

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