5 March 2018
College of Environmental Design Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning Iryna Dronova’s recent research proposal has been selected for the NASA Early Career grant.
Dronova’s proposal details a three-year project titled "Using Remotely Sensed Phenology to Monitor Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Wetlands.” The collaboration with NASA seeks to measure wetland biodiversity to support and advise wetland restoration efforts.
Dronova’s project will be focused on different types of wetlands from the continental U.S. region.
The aim of her study is to develop cost-effective indicators of vegetation diversity from publicly available remote sensing imagery. Such indicators could be used to monitor wetland conditions and change and would also help to inform and monitor expanding restoration efforts in different regions.
Dronova will specifically be collaborating with the NASA Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting Team. The grant is a component of the New (Early Career) Investigator Program (NIP) which aims to “support outstanding scientific research and career development of scientists and engineers at the early stage of their professional careers.” It is the goal of this program to encourage innovative research proposals which will in turn cultivate scientific leadership in Earth system science.
The Earth Science Division is especially focused upon the researcher’s “ability to promote and increase the use of space-based remote sensing through the proposed research.”
The following is an official proposal summary which highlights the main components of the research:
“Dramatic global losses of wetland extent, biodiversity and ecosystem functions over recent centuries represent a massive ecological perturbation, the consequences of which require continued research and monitoring.
Despite the widely acknowledged contribution of biodiversity to critical ecosystem services such as productivity, stability and resilience to stressors, the ability to monitor biodiversity and these contributions across regional extents remains limited.
Although a number of remote sensing instruments, particularly hyperspectral sensors, have been promising in such efforts, their applications are still limited by the lack of globally observing platforms and universally robust complex data processing algorithms.
These constraints are especially pronounced in wetlands that are often biologically diverse due to unique environmental gradients yet continue to decline and disappear at alarming rates globally.
Further aggravated by spatial complexity and field survey limitations in wetlands, these issues create an urgent need for cost-effective yet generalizable and robust approaches for monitor wetland biological diversity and its change.
To address this need, this study proposes a novel strategy using spatio-temporal phenological information from the publicly available, long-term repeatedly collected NASA satellite products and an unprecedented rigorous and comprehensive field survey of 967 USA wetland sites by the 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA) by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Although phenological information highlighting spectral-temporal heterogeneity of landscapes has been used for mapping elements of biodiversity in both wetland and terrestrial regions, it has not been yet rigorously investigated for quantitative, repeatable monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem stability at regional scales.
The main objectives are thus to determine 1) how biological diversity of vegetation affects spatio-temporal variation of wetland phenological characteristics and 2) the potential of using these relationships to monitor ecological condition and stability at regional and continental scales.
To address these objectives, the analysis will focus on three major hypotheses: 1) wetland vegetation diversity increases spatial phenological variability and heterogeneity, 2) vegetation diversity increases short-term inter-annual phenological variability but also enhances the long-term phenological stability, and 3) wetlands with higher levels of ecological stress are more likely to exhibit directional shifts in their long-term phenological trajectories.
These hypotheses will be tested by quantifying Landsat satellite-based phenological metrics for seasonal trajectories of spectral vegetation indices, their local spatial variation and inter-annual spatio-temporal covariance for the NWCA wetland field-surveyed units and testing statistical models using these metrics as candidate predictors of field-based vegetation diversity and ecological condition indicators.
Modeling outcomes will be ranked to determine the predictive potential of phenological indicators and validated using the recent follow-up 2016 NWCA survey. Different sources of uncertainty will be also assessed by estimating statistical model errors, the effects of geographic differences in remote sensing data availability, confounding factors of tidal effects and the effects of spatial resolution.
Study outcomes will provide critical new insights on the linkages among wetland biodiversity, ecological condition and phenological dynamics and generate a reproducible research framework to support both regional, broad-scale accounting of wetland ecosystem services and local wetland restoration efforts with cost-effective NASA satellite products in the USA and globally.
The project will also generate rich opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student science training and academic curricular innovation in applied remote sensing and environmental planning.”