EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Prof. Phil Townsend : 31st Oct

Global change is affecting both natural and agricultural ecosystems, requiring that we develop better ways to monitor and predict vegetation processes. A grand challenge in biology and geosciences is to develop the methods that will allow us to better understand ecosystem change at local to global scales. Contact and imaging spectroscopy show great promise for measurement of the physiology of ecosystems related both to environmental drivers and genetics. Over the last decade, researchers have demonstrated the use of reflectance spectroscopy to rapidly and accurately characterize features of ecosystems that previously entailed considerable monetary expense and effort.

The seminar that was given by Prof. Phil Townsend focused on how the spectral measurements allow us to measure the ‘heartbeat’ and ‘lung capacity’ of different ecosystems and also how those measurements provide the opportunity to characterize traits of ecosystems in order to understand their function. The presentation was rich of real life experiments and case studies, and all of them enclose the main idea, that with the use of spectroscopy we can map the state and function of different ecosystems.

A method was proposed by the speaker in collaboration with a colleague from the University of Minnesota that includes optical measurements. Optical surrogacy provides information about the genetic diversity of the species.

Spectral data are used as a surrogate for physiological processes and hyperspectral images used to map the traits. It might sound simple but it not, to reach the final output a variety of methods, techniques and multiple samplings to estimate the uncertainty of the models are being used, so they can finally create a pixel by pixel trait map. This technique also allows the prediction of the Vmax and Jmax of the ecosystem models.

The adaptation of spectrometers in UAV’s will be enable to bridge the gaps in spatial and temporal measurement capacity from the leaf/canopy to airborne to spaceborne levels and the potential future applications of these methods are extensive, an integrated approach will enable geneticists to understand genome function better, agronomists to better target existing genotypes and breeding for different environmental circumstances, and ecologists to better predict the effects of climate change on agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Niki Katzi
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

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