Nelson Institute and Conservation International partner on NASA land-cover and land-use project in South America

October 16, 2020

Two students from the Nelson Institute Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) program will have the opportunity to work with Conservation International on a NASA Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program (LCLUC) project thanks to a grant from NASA.

The project titled, Impacts of Global Markets and National Policies on Forest Carbon Trajectories and Social Outcomes in the Guiana Shield Ecoregion, received a three year grant from NASA to support further research into forest carbon dynamics. Specifically, the project will focus on understanding how market forces and Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) interventions impact forest carbon dynamics in that region.

“We are honored to have received this funding from NASA and strengthen our relationship with Conservation International,” said EOI Coordinator, Sarah Graves. “This is the first time the professional programs have received funding from a competitive research grant to directly support students and is a great example of how a research institution and an international NGO can collaborate on a project.”

The project will be led by Conservation International Director of Social Science Carlos Luis Muñoz Brenes with assistance from co-investigators forest carbon scientist Anand Roopsind, EOI Coordinator Sarah Graves, and social scientist Arundhati Jagadish.

With the assistance of two incoming EOI students, the team will study how NCS influences human behavior and forest use in the countries of Guyana and Surinam. Specifically, the study has three goals; to advance methods to map forest degradation, regrowth, and their associated carbon dynamics through data fusion of optical, radar and lidar satellite imagery; quantify the impact of NCS interventions on forest carbon trajectories and socioeconomic outcomes; and quantify the rate of diffusion of NCS interventions and their impacts.

 “This project goes beyond estimating carbon dynamics of tropical forests, which is an ever-developing area of research, said Graves. “This project rests on socio-ecological data that incorporates satellite data, forest inventory data, and social data collected from people and organizations in the study site. It is truly an interdisciplinary project”

The project will provide a unique learning opportunity for two students participating in the EOI program, which is a 15-month professional master's program that integrates Earth observation and informatics technologies with big data analytics. The program includes two semesters of in-person learning, a semester of online learning, and a final semester that includes a professional project. Through these unique learning opportunities, students gain technical expertise and leadership skills that prepare them to be leaders in remote sensing and integrated technology, modeling and analysis, and strategic thinking.

“As the EOI coordinator, I work with all EOI students to develop a relationship with an organization and a project that supports the organization’s mission and the student's professional goals and interests,” said Graves “This project is unique in that we can financially support a student in the EOI program, and that the student will have a direct and critical role in the success of the larger project.”