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Saving the world with geospatial science

If you’ve browsed this website even just a little, you will know that geospatial science has a wide range of applications.

One of them is conservation.

2020 has seen a global pandemic grip the globe, but that threat may pale in comparison to the ones posed by issues such as sustainability and climate change. From the bushfires that ravage California, the Amazon and Victoria, through to increasingly large number of animals that are being listed as endangered across the globe, our conservation efforts become more important with each passing year.

The measure of human impact

Humanity has had an unshakeable impact on the planet, and now, with the aid of geospatial technology and techniques, experts are finding ways to track and report on that impact – resulting in important data that could be key to deciding how we can find our way through the challenges ahead.

A few months ago, The Nature Conservancy released the 2020 Geospatial Conservation Annual Report. Drawing on a variety of geospatial mapping approaches – including maps designed to communicate at risk geolocations, others that offer a predictive snapshot, and those that highlight where conservation actions are already implemented and are having an impact – the report identifies ecosystems across the planet that are a low, moderate and critical risk.

The findings are confronting. The report describes 84% of the planet’s surface as currently experiencing significant impact by humans, with 26% of those ecosystems in a crisis stage. Of that 26%, around one in ten – or 9.8% – are designated “last chance ecosystems”, requiring urgent action.

These types of reports are integral, as they synthesise the data gathered by geospatial scientists, and present those findings in a easily digestible and communicable way. It is then easier for decision-makers to know where to direct their conservation efforts.

From the macro to the micro

The Nature Conservancy report is incredibly helpful when it comes to looking at things from a macro perspective. Zooming in, there are geospatial scientists working hard to address more specific conservation issues.

One example is the plight facing orangutans. With habitat loss due to unsustainable palm oil production seeing these magnificent animals losing their homes, conservationists are working overdrive to educate the public while fighting the companies that are endangering them.

Organisations such as the Orangutan Foundation International have turned to geospatial science to support orangutan conservation efforts. Their GIS program started with the goal of mapping orangutan habitat areas in just one location, the Tanjung Puting National Park. Over the years the scope of their work has grown, and today they utilise their robust geographic information systems to identify areas of high conservation value, in order to purchase them and ensure the lands remain pristine and available for orangutans – and wildlife of all spots and stripes.

Another part of the world that requires urgent attention is the Amazon Rainforest. The fires that have ravaged this area are devastating, but researchers from NASA are lending their support to the cause.

In August 2020 they released a tool free for use on the world wide web. The tool uses a complex computer algorithm to pore through remote sensing imagery to identify which Amazon fires are most severe. The tool also aids with fire categorisation, and helps identify deforestation fires more easily. All of this ensures that it is possible to track the size, behaviour and characteristics of individual fires over time, which in turns furnishes decision-makers with better information while they determine how best to manage fires.

The road ahead

There are so many challenges facing us as we work to better the planet and its inhabitants. It is reassuring that the work of geospatial scientists can play a role in helping make decisions that will make a real and positive change. With technology improving every year, and researchers dedicating their time to develop new software, tools and methods, there will be a role to play for tomorrow’s geospatial scientists as well. Find out more about how you can step into that role on our website here.

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