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SPRI Review 2000: SPRI Review 2000

SPRI Review 2000

Remote Sensing Group

Dr W G Rees
Professor P.J. Williams, Dr Y.H.R. Marchand,
M. Williams, Dr O.V. Tutubalina, J.S. Ash,
S.M. Cashin, A.J. Fox, A.Z. Tsigaridas

The work of the Remote Sensing Group continued to develop during the year 1999-2000. The interlinked themes of the group's research encompass the monitoring of high-latitude vegetation dynamics in response to local, regional, and global forcing; the monitoring of glaciers and glacial mudflows; Arctic environmental risk assessment; and the development of new mapping techniques. As in previous years, the group has also engaged in 'research support' activities, especially though not exclusively with an Anglo-Russian dimension.

Dr Yvette Marchand's investigation of methods for studying the impact of oil spills on high-latitude vegetation came to an end during the year, and she left the group in February 2000 to take up a lectureship at Rouen University. Meredith Williams completed his contract to the BASIS project and left the group in May 2000. He will take up a lectureship at Newcastle University in December 2000. Olga Tutubalina (who has changed the spelling of her surname from the previous Toutoubalina) submitted her dissertation, and was awarded the PhD degree in July 2000. She continues as a member of the group, having achieved the rare distinction of being awarded a three-year research fellowship (by Trinity Hall). During the year she presented lectures in Russian, English, and French. Zanette Tsigaridas left the group during the year, having completed her MPhil project, and returned to Norway. Adrian Fox joined the group in January 2000.

As has been the case during the past few years, the major emphasis of the group's work has been on the development of techniques for monitoring the dynamics of high-latitude vegetation. Tutubalina completed her doctoral research on remote sensing techniques for monitoring vegetation degradation in northern Siberia. In this period she concentrated on developing a novel technique for phenological correction. Such a correction aims to remove natural seasonal changes in vegetation from a multi-temporal imagery dataset, to allow examination of pollution-induced changes alone. A technique involving low-resolution imagery from AVHRR sensor and meteorological data was developed and successfully tested. Tutubalina submitted her PhD dissertation entitled 'Remote sensing of environmental degradation in the north: case study of the non-ferrous metal industry in Noril'sk, northern Siberia' in March 2000 and was awarded the PhD degree in July 2000.

Work on the interdisciplinary BASIS project continued during the year. A second field visit was undertaken by Dr Piers Vitebsky in summer 2000. Analysis of the satellite, landscape characterisation, and anthropological data collected from the Nenets Autonomous Okrug during 1999 was continued, and the preliminary results reported last year were more or less confirmed. Zanette Tsigaridas extended the analysis from the Indigsky territory to the Vyucheiskiy territory. She submitted her dissertation in August 2000 and was awarded the MPhil degree.

Significant changes have occurred in the distribution of tundra vegetation species, largely attributable to the reindeer grazing regime (although work by other members of the international BASIS programme has shown that lichen species are even more sensitive to disturbance than previously believed). Although the area investigated by this project, within the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, is small in comparison with the totality of the Russian non-montane tundra, it now seems likely that the results can be extrapolated in a suitably generalised form to much of the Eurasian far north, and that significant, potentially irreversible, changes in vegetation distribution may be extremely widespread. A paper describing these findings has been submitted to Remote Sensing of Environment. During the year the project received a major setback, when the international BALANCE research programme, intended to provide the long-term follow-on to BASIS, was rejected in its entirety by the EC as a result of a minor clerical error. On a more positive note, the continuation of the research was assured through the award of a research studentship to Mark Dwyer, who will take up his post in October 2000. Meredith Williams continued to be employed on the BASIS project, on a part-time basis, until May 2000, since when he has been concentrating full-time on completing his PhD thesis.

The Second International Conference on Contaminants in Freezing Ground and the Russian translation undertakings (described below) have given impetus to the ongoing studies of processes of contamination. Changes in soil microstructure (determined at the Geotechnical Science Laboratories in Ottawa, with the involvement of Professor Peter Williams and collaborators there) are being analysed for their effect on macroscopic properties, which are ultimately revealed in remote sensing. The database so derived should allow prediction of the extent and long-term effects of hydrocarbon spills.

During the year, Tutubalina contributed to the pilot phase of a new international project in the central part of Paluostrov Taymyr, aimed at long-term protection of reindeer as a keystone species in the region's biodiversity. The project is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and is devoted to mapping of the 250,000 km2 area of the reindeer migration corridor in central Taymyr. The output recommendations of the project will be a description of new protected areas to be established and suggestions for involvement of the indigenous peoples into the management of reindeer population, in view of increasing mineral exploration in the central Taymyr. At the pilot stage, an inventory of high- and low-spatial resolution imagery for the area was completed, and the principal workflow was established for the compilation of the vegetation map. The latter will be based on existing large-scale vegetation maps of selected areas, multidisciplinary fieldwork in key areas, large-scale ground mapping, and medium-scale and small-scale remote sensing mapping. An application has been made to the GEF for full phase funding of $0.75M, and if this is successful this phase of the work should begin in March 2001.

In April 2000, Dr Rees was invited to attend the inaugural meeting of the Taiga-Tundra Initiative in Abisko, Sweden, and was appointed to its steering committee. This is an international (Europe, Russia, USA, and Canada) programme, supported by IASC, to study the current status and development of the taiga-tundra ecotone (essentially the boreal treeline zone). The Abisko meeting reviewed current knowledge and began to develop a research strategy for the future. The meeting also agreed to prepare a set of eight linked papers for publication in the journal Ambio.

The group undertook two main glaciological projects during the year. The first of these was the continuation of the collaboration with Dr Neil Arnold's group on the characterisation of the glacier Midre Lovénbreen on Svalbard. Dr Rees joined Dr Arnold in Svalbard in April 2000, where they measured snow properties on the glacier. The measurements were timed to coincide with two over passes of the ERS-2 satellite, to give concurrent radar imagery.

The second glaciological project is a new one devoted to study of modern glaciation on the Main Caucasus Range, in which Dr Tutubalina is participating. Preliminary work focused on the accuracy of determination of the snowline in Landsat ETM+ quicklooks (preview images), which was assessed in the field in August 2000 using a GPS receiver. A new larger project in collaboration with a group of Russian glaciologists, geographers, and geologists is looking at the origin of glacial mudflows that devastated the town of Tyrnyauz in July 2000, and at the development of ground and remote sensing methods to establish a monitoring and early-warning system in the Girkhozhan River catchment where the mudflows originated. Reconnaissance fieldwork and an aerial survey were conducted by Russian scientists in July-September 2000, and a larger expedition is planned for summer 2001.

This year was a full one for John Ash and his research into the management of Arctic environmental risk. This study concentrates on the potential hazards associated with the development of oil, and Ash undertook a number of visits and events in preparation for fieldwork in 2001. In March 2000, he organised a seminar at the Institute on Arctic environmental risk. Immediately after this event, he visited the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, as the guest of BP, to collect comparative data on risk management for an oil installation in a temperate region, but with specific geographic and commercial similarities to the Arctic littoral. The year saw further progress on the project. In April, Ash attended the Oil and Ice Workshop hosted by Alaska Clean Seas at Anchorage and Prudhoe Bay, and this led to a successful application for a fellowship with the Prince William Sound Oil Spill Recovery Institute at Cordova.

The obvious links between remote sensing and mapping were strengthened during the year. Sean Cashin continued his PhD research on the use of GIS and high-resolution imagery in cadastral applications in the republic of Moldova. During September 2000 he was at last able to get into the field, after many bureaucratic delays, spending time in and around Chisinau (Kishinev). Field survey data (GPS and Total Station measurements of the coordinates of land parcel boundaries) were collected from two sites, the neighbouring villages of Costesi and Milestii Mici, about 30 km south of Chisinau. These data will now be compared with features identifiable in aerial photographs and high-resolution satellite imagery.

Adrian Fox joined the Remote Sensing Group in January 2000, although he continues to be employed within the MAGIC mapping unit at the British Antarctic Survey. He is investigating the use of digital photogrammetric techniques for topographic analysis of Antarctic terrain. His work so far has included assessment of the effectiveness of automatic Digital Elevation Model generation using area-based matching for typical Antarctic terrain and devising an optimum strategy for the method, and preparation for fieldwork in Antarctica. This fieldwork (2000-01 season) will involve the acquisition of aerial photography and GPS ground-surveyed test data.

As in previous years, the Remote Sensing Group continued to develop research support activities, especially for Anglo-Russian collaboration. Dr Rees continued as a trustee of the Kapitza Trust, the principal aim of which is to support student exchanges, although this charity is still at the fundraising stage. Work also continued on the creation of a Cambridge mirror for the website of the Russian Research and Development Centre ScanEx. The Cambridge website [scanex.spri.cam.ac.uk] provides fast access to the catalogue of imagery from the Russian Resurs-O satellites and the opportunity to order images through the Institute. Another major activity is the Regional Academic Partnership (REAP) project between the Faculty of Geography of Moscow University, the Institute, and the Department of Geography at Cambridge, aimed at the creation of a Master's course in geographical information systems and remote sensing in Moscow. Tutubalina contributed to teaching of digital image processing and differential GPS courses, to the organisation of the programme workshop in Moscow on 26-31 March 2000, as well as to translation and interpreting. The REAP project is now well into the main phase: the first group of Master's students is starting the second year of study, while the second group begins its (now officially approved) study programme in October 2000.

Some preliminary work has been also carried on a new publishing project in collaboration with Professor Williams and Isabella Warren (Russian Bibliographer). The project will aim to provide an English translation of the Russian academic journal Kriosfera Zemli (Earth Cryosphere). In summer 2000, an exchange of the current Russian version for Polar Record was set up between the SPRI Library and the editorial office of the journal in Moscow. Discussions on the content of the pilot English issue and various technical details are underway. Professor Williams, Warren, and their Russian collaborators have worked on the second edition of The English language version of the geocryological map of Russia and neighbouring republics. Its initial publication in 1999 led to discussion of finer points of technical translation, considered in the new edition (the first was widely reviewed and is almost sold out). Professor Williams and Dr Vlad Rougansky (pipeline consultant in Edmonton, Canada) are preparing a geotechnical dictionary of terms relating to pipelines in permafrost. Professor Williams and Dr Michael Smith are preparing a new edition of their book Fundamentals of Geocryology.

Dr Rees continued as the UK member of ISIRA, the International Science Initiative for the Russian Arctic, and attended its annual meeting, which took place in Helsinki in October 1999. He was appointed to a second IASC committee during the year, the steering committee of the Taiga-Tundra Initiative. He was also appointed chairman of the Faculty Board of Earth Sciences and Geography at the University of Cambridge. Dr Rees attended the second annual BASIS coordination meeting in Münster in November 1999. He visited Moscow State University for a week in March 2000, to monitor and contribute to the Regional Academic Partnership (REAP) project between Moscow and Cambridge Universities. In April he presented a talk on remote sensing of the Arctic treeline to the inaugural meeting of IASC's Taiga-Tundra Initiative, held at Abisko, Sweden. Meredith Williams presented a seminar on the BASIS project and on his own PhD project to the staff and students of Newcastle University Geomatics Department in September 2000. Tutubalina attended the ERDAS Imagine authorisation course in Cambridge in November 1999, the one-day Geological Remote Sensing Group on 'Radar in geoscience' in London, also in December 1999, and (with Meredith Williams) the third TUNDRA and second PERUSA coordination meetings at Nottingham in December 1999. Williams gave a presentation of the Institute's work on the BASIS project to the TUNDRA meeting. In July 2000 Tutubalina attended the second International Conference on Contaminants in the Freezing Ground, at which she presented a poster on 'Land degradation in a permafrost region as seen from space: Noril'sk, 1961-1999' (jointly with Rees) and served as a rapporteuse of the INTAS-sponsored workshop. This conference, organised by the Institute in association with the Geotechnical Science Laboratories of Carleton University, Ottawa, was held at Fitzwilliam College with the poster session at the Institute. Professor Williams chaired the conference with Dr Rees, and Drs Stonehouse, Tutubalina, and Marchand also participated along with 57 representatives from 12 countries. Conference sponsors included INTAS (European Union), BPAmoco, the US Army, and the Canadian Polar Commission. New bioremediation techniques were reported, and many topics of scientific and environmental concern were addressed. The Conference provided a timely bridge between research and technology application, in this rapidly developing area of research and practice. A three-volume proceedings (which will include dedicated issues of two leading journals) will be published shortly.

John Ash organised a seminar on Arctic environmental risk, held in Cambridge in March 2000. This seminar, chaired by Dr Rees, was attended by two dozen invited delegates from the UK. In April 2000, Ash also attended the Oil and Ice Workshop hosted by Alaska Clean Seas at Anchorage and Prudhoe Bay. Adrian Fox attended the Photogrammetric Society Thompson Symposium, University of Surrey, Guildford, 8-9 April 2000, where he presented a paper entitled 'Automatic DEM generation for Antarctica' with M.J. Gooch (University of Loughborough). Olga Tutubalina was elected to a special senior Rouse Ball studentship at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1999, and pre-elected to a junior research fellowship (tenable for three years from October 2000) at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in May 2000. In November 1999 she was certified as an authorised trainer for ERDAS Imagine image processing software.