Using DigitalGlobe’s Global Basemap to answer big questions – part 2 of 2

Last fall, the DigitalGlobe Foundation launched a pilot program to expand its mission to foster growth of the next generation of geospatial leaders. The pilot program offered access to DigitalGlobe Basemap to two innovative universities: the University of Minnesota (UMN) and UC San Diego. In this two-part blog series, we look back after one year of the pilot to explore what DigitalGlobe Global Basemap has made possible for these universities to achieve, and where they plan to go from here.

Access to the DigitalGlobe Basemap has created vast new possibilities for research and education at the University of Minnesota. More than 125 students, faculty and staff have requested access to the DigitalGlobe Basemap since the program kicked off.

Users of DigitalGlobe Basemap represent a range of colleges and departments within the university, with the largest number coming from the earth sciences, anthropology and geography departments.

 

UMN departments using DigitalGlobe Basemap
UMN departments using DigitalGlobe Basemap

Several graduate students have relied on the imagery for their dissertations, on topics ranging from threatened bird habitat to land-use changes in watershed areas to archeological site identification and field mapping in the Cordillera mountain range. Several courses are also incorporating the data to teach students how to use remotely sensed imagery.

Training labs at UMN
Training labs at UMN

Other students have used DigitalGlobe imagery to research habitats, identify water resources near an Engineers Without Borders site, to identify archaeological sites, inform a long-term (30 year) community development project in Zimbabwe, and analyze agricultural land use throughout the world.

Anup Joshi, a research associate in conservation biology, used DigitalGlobe Basemap to calculate baseline reference of emissions level for Nepal. Like many developing countries, Nepal lacks data on regular forest inventory and changes in forest cover, which are necessary to calculate baseline forest carbon emission levels. Combining Landsat and DigitalGlobe Basemap imagery resulted in a more accurate model predicting an average annual net emission of 4,353,833 ± 587,767 tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) at 95 percent confidence level. The government of Nepal has submitted an application for funding to the Forest Carbon Funds at the World Bank for an emission reduction project based on this research. This would not have happened without the use of DigitalGlobe imagery, according to Dr. Joshi. “A creditable carbon emission level and subsequent funding opportunity for emission reduction program wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have an access to DigitalGlobe Basemap,” he says.

Deforestation and forest degradation in Basanta forest in Nepal
Deforestation & forest degradation in Basanta forest in Terai Arc Landscape, Nepal between 1999 and 2011. Deforestation (red) and degradation (cyan) from Landsat satellite data analysis were verified on the DigitalGlobe Basemap.

Other ways in which UMN is putting DigitalGlobe Basemap to use include:

  • Assessing the impact of industrial palm oil plantation expansion on land use and livelihoods in Southeast Asia
  • Supporting multiple field ecology research projects related to biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Detailing the complexities of ecosystems at Cedar Creek, an ecological research station in Minnesota
  • Evaluating sea turtle nesting beaches, including vegetation changes
  • Studying agricultural land use and irrigation
  • Understanding changes and trends in agricultural field size in South America
  • Researching earth science to determine flooding history in the Upper Midwest
  • Conducting field work for fossil collecting and geological sampling sponsored by the Leakey Foundation
  • Tracking wildlife in Kenya and the decreased range of sun bears in Southeast Asia associated with tree cover loss

Educators and students at U of M are only beginning to explore all the uses made possible by having access to this rich archive of imagery. University staff is continuing to promote DigitalGlobe Basemap across the school, as well as offering workshops to provide training on how to access and use the imagery. Great things will come out of this partnership between DigitalGlobe and the University of Minnesota in the months ahead. Paul Morin, Director of the Polar Geospatial Center says, “We expect to see even more valuable work emerging as University researchers begin to understand how to fully realize the potential of DigitalGlobe’s imagery.”

Read part 1 of Using DigitalGlobe’s Global Basemap to answer big questions here.