Tuesday, July 21, 2009

South Africa: Remote sensing tackling climate change

The use of remote sensing and satellite imaging looks set to become more widespread in South Africa as sustainable agriculture and natural resource management become more urgent in the face of climate change.

Remote sensing, a technique that uses recorded or real-time wireless sensing devices to collect information on an object or phenomenon, is proving more successful in South Africa than other African countries for two reasons: South Africa has the required telecommunications network infrastructure to support remote sensing, and its higher internet capacity means that information can be transmitted consistently and timeously.

"For the past decade we have used remote sensing to evaluate and monitor land use, and its impact on the land. We also use remote sensing for mapping land cover and ecosystems, and for monitoring drought outlooks," a specialist researcher for the Limpopo Department of Agriculture, Brilliant Mareme Petja, told IRIN.

Increased demand

During the general election campaign, the ruling African National Congress - which won the April 2009 poll - promised to speed up land redistribution to address the racially skewed ownership system inherited from apartheid.

President Jacob Zuma's government appears committed to their election promise, as suppliers in the remote sensing industry have experienced an increasing demand for their products since the poll.

"Our customers are comprised of government agencies, private enterprises and academic institutions. Government agencies have recently upped their investment in remote sensing software in South Africa," Kevin Melhuish, managing director of Map Afrika, a supplier of mapping and geospatial software, told IRIN.

"Similarly, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's Satellite Application Centre … recently invested in a whole new suite of software … to assist them in downloading photographs from satellites, which they then distribute to a variety of government departments," he said.

Climate variability

Scientists at the Department of Agriculture in Limpopo Province have begun using remote sensing techniques to monitor the impact of climate change, with a view to mitigating and adapting to altered conditions.

"Remote sensor data combined with meteorological data from the rainfall stations enables us to demarcate areas that are more likely to be affected by climate change," Petja said.

The northern, central and western parts of the province have been identified as most likely to experience decreasing rainfall, but attributing this to climate change is tricky. "That is the million dollar question. Right now, we classify what we are observing as 'increased climate variability',” Petja said.

“We are still working with long-term data to prove whether or not climate change is already at work in Limpopo Province, or whether the droughts we have been experiencing each year for the five years preceding this year is the result of long-term cyclical activities in rainfall."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen,
Putting principles before profits