Scientist examines climate’s role in pressures on protected lands in Africa

Posted On September 19, 2011
Categories Headlines

ATLANTA – Georgia State University’s Jeremy E. Diem, associate professor of geography, will join researchers from several universities to explore the links between land use, climate and wildlife in protected areas of western Uganda.

The National Science Foundation sponsored project is from the NSF’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program, and is led by Joel Hartter of the University of New Hampshire. The team also includes Colin A. Chapman of McGill University, Diem of GSU, Michael Palace of the University of New Hampshire, and Sadie J. Ryan of the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

The team is interested in looking at an area of western Uganda called the Albertine Rift, one of Africa’s biodiversity hotspots, and an area prone to conservation conflict induced by surrounding poverty.

Several national parks have been established in the area to protect several animal species, including critically endangered primates such as chimpanzees and mountain gorillas, living there. The researchers are examining the impacts of population growth, agricultural, and climate change around these parks.

There are pressures on the environment as expanding agriculture and intensification is leading to the degradation of these natural forest habitats, and they are becoming fragmented as agricultural development and the need for firewood puts pressure on them.

The team is also interested as to whether global climate change might be causing additional impacts on forests, as well as agricultural lands – causing people to alter farming practices, which could lead to even more intense agricultural development and loss of forests outside parks, and fragmentation of protected areas.

This is where Diem is lending his expertise. He will be looking at how the climate of the area has changed over the past 30 years, and if that change has impacted forests and agriculture – and especially agriculture, where for farmers there, the only way to increase crop yields when rain is less is to expand.

“There are two rainy seasons there,” Diem explained. “One of my jobs is to determine how these rainy seasons have changed – have they gotten wetter? Has the timing changed? Has the duration changed? Is one season getting shorter, longer or the same? Has there been a shifting of weeks?”

One of his main tools for examining rainfall in that part of Uganda is the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite, a joint project between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The satellite provides data on rainfall and the heat release associated with rainfall, helping scientists to understand what regulates the Earth’s climate system.

“Climate change could be contributing to more rainfall, or the shifting of the seasons. We don’t really know what we will find,” Diem said. “Theoretically, the tropics should be getting more rainfall with global warming.”

The scientists will also work closely with Ugandan students, local governments, Makerere University, other collaborators and non-governmental organizations. Data collection from weather stations will be made available to local farmers and agricultural extension agents for improved land use planning, farming strategies and adapting to changes in local weather patterns.

Additionally, the team will make a web application map for data delivery and visualization. The Geographic Information System Laboratory at the Complex Systems Research Center at the University of New Hampshire will host a geographically referenced data browser system to allow for the display of project data and results in a 3D mapping interface such as Google Earth.

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