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Geography study recognized

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A paper about remote sensing with authors at the University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan, Trent University, and the Foothills Research Institute Grizzly Bear Research Program has won an award from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. 

A 2010 ERDAS Award for Best Scientific Paper in Remote Sensing was awarded to Julia Linke, PhD Candidate in Geography, along with co investigator Greg McDermid, Adam McLane, David Laskin, and Mryka Hall-Beyer from the U of C’s department of Geography, Trent’s Steven Franklin, Alysha Pape from the U of S and Jerome Cranston from the Grizzly Bear Research Program.

This research on the use of satellite remote sensing and geographic information technologies means researchers are better able to track landscape changes on a larger scale than ever before. These new methods are expected to assist environmental monitoring and conservation initiatives across Canada and around the world.

The study, led by Linke, investigated the use of remote sensing and other geographic technologies for measuring human-induced changes to wilderness areas in west-central Alberta, Canada, including threatened grizzly bear habitat.  The study solved technical issues, which have enabled scientists to monitor signs of human activities with satellite images much more reliably than in the past. 

While the initial focus of the work involved changes in the multi-use Albertan Foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the implications for this work are much broader. “We need these techniques to help monitor land use on a wide scale,” says McDermid, professor in Geography and a co-investigator on the project. “We are now able to monitor public and private land as well as native reserves to see the impact of human activity on natural ecosystems.”

Because of the study, researchers can use remote sensing and geographic technologies to obtain satellite images of large-scale land masses and determine the impact of building roads and well sites and of logging cut blocks and other landscape changes over time. The research team has been specifically monitoring a 10,000 km2 region in the Alberta Foothills between highway 16 and the North Saskatchewan River, since 1998.

“From this data, we can derive global rates of change and trends for the different types of disturbances in a region,” says Linke. “Also, we can reliably track the spatial distribution of individual disturbances within the region.  This can be applied to any landscape from the arctic to the tropics.”

So far, Linke has determined that the total human footprint in study region nearly doubled between 1998 and 2004. Cleared lands in the area with no, or only early regenerating, vegetation totaled 53,000 ha in 2004 compared to 26,000 ha in 1998.  The number of well sites increased from 900 to nearly 1,500 in the same time span.

“This landscape was already quite dissected in 1998.  At that time, from any location in this region, one could travel on average only 1,500 metres without encountering a man-made feature, such as a road, a wellsite, a mine or a cutblock; but now, this distance has been even further reduced to an average of 1,300 metres.”

The research, which has been funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Alberta Ingenuity, and a series of industrial sponsors, is a part of a larger project to investigate the effects of land development on grizzly bear health, stress, and habitat selection.