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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. Partners: John Bolten, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Venkat Lakshmi, University of South Carolina
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 highlight of the first quarter of 2018 was the visit by PI Dr. Quyet Vu and researcher Nguyen Dan Tri to the School of Earth, Ocean and the Environment, University of South Carolina. They took part in a tailored three-week training workshop March 15 through April 5 on applications of GIS and satellite remote sensing for land management and environmental studies. The training was hosted by Dr. Venkat Lakshmi, a leading expert in global hydrology and remote sensing. During the visit, the two researchers learned about applying remote sensing in their research, including examining relationships between vegetation indexes and rainfall; working with land use and land cover classifications; mapping soil moisture at the global level; downscaling climate data for specific areas using global data; identifying evapotranspiration, flood, and drought; and comparing data from rain gauge stations with satellite-derived results. The visit not only increased the visitors’ technical capabilities but also opened up new opportunities for building new research networks that might be useful in expanded collaboration.

Both during the visit and back home in Vietnam, the researchers and their colleagues continued gathering and analyzing satellite-derived and ground-based data to determine the extent and causes of land degradation. Data on population density was incorporated to help shed light on potential anthropogenic impacts. Soil constraint data were downloaded as well. The next steps will involve analyzing the relationship between previously identified land degradation and the potential determining factors (i.e., land cover, population, and soil/terrain constraints) to gather additional insights into the underlying processes of land degradation. The PI and his team will organize an interim workshop in mid-May for about 20-30 participants from various research organizations in Vietnam, representative of USAID Vietnam, and policymakers and government officials who are interested in the topic. The team will also work to prepare dissemination materials on their results, including tables, maps, and references, as well as a draft manuscript for publication.

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