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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Hyperspectral monitoring of land degradation in Mediterranean ecosystems and its link with carbon storage and biodiversity

Published: 1 March 2011

Fully funded NERC studentship

Supervisors – Prof Ted Milton and Dr Patrick Osborne (Civ Eng & the Env)

The area between Castro Verde and Mértola in southern Portugal is characterized by a strong land degradation gradient which results in changes in land cover, vegetation pattern and land use. The aim of this study is to use remote sensing (airborne hyperspectral and LiDAR) to relate remotely sensed variations in surface cover and configuration to changes in (i) above-ground biomass and carbon storage of natural vegetation; and (ii) biodiversity (steppe birds and their habitats).
The area around Castro Verde is a Special Protection Area for birds (SPA), and is managed under an agri-environmental scheme aimed at maintaining the traditional cereal farming system to promote steppe bird populations, which are of international importance for some threatened species. However, this farming system also inadvertently promotes soil erosion, which is considered a major threat to the long-term sustainability of the cereal steppes of Castro Verde. Soil degradation has a direct impact on forage quality and therefore compromises the viability of such extensive farming systems. On the other hand, natural succession following the abandonment of agricultural land may enhance other ecosystem services such as carbon storage, thereby mitigating climate change. There is therefore a complex balancing act necessary to ensure that multiple ecosystem services are maintained (or enhanced) whilst at the same time preserving a characteristic landscape and way of life.
Remote sensing offers a method to assess the present vegetation condition and monitor change throughout the Castro Verde SPA. An airborne imaging spectrometer (Aisa Eagle/Hawk) will be used to collect hyperspectral data from the whole of the SPA at two spatial resolutions (2 m and 6 m pixel size). These data will be used to produce maps of the vegetation communities present, to estimate above-ground biomass and to identify any spectral features indicative of soil degradation. Concurrent airborne LiDAR data will be used to provide information on canopy structure and soil surface microrelief. The study will involve aerial overflights funded by the European Facility for Airborne Research (EUFAR) (approved) and concurrent field measurements (spectroscopy and ecological measurements).

The closing date for applications is 1 April 2011.

Eligibility for this studentship is governed by the NERC – please see their website to check your eligibility BEFORE making an application:

For information on how to apply, follow these links  or contact Julie Drewitt, Graduate School Administrator on if you have any further queries.

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