In climate change, Land Cover Mapping, modelling, Satellites, Technology

The Mekong River is one of the world’s great river systems, flowing 4,909 km through six countries: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The Mekong is divided into both the Upper Mekong Basin, and the Lower Mekong Basin. The latter makes up 76 percent of the overall river basin; the Lower Mekong starts as the border between Myanmar and Lao, and then between Lao and Thailand. The river traverses another 2,600 km in Lao before snaking over to Thailand, entering Cambodia, and then Vietnam, where its’ flow creates a complex delta system into the sea. An estimated 70 million people live in the Lower Mekong Basin, in villages and cities, and about 40 percent of them live within 5-15 km from the river.

Giving these local communities, governments, and organizations access to “Space to Village” information and planning tools is a key aspect of the SERVIR Program.  SERVIR is a partnership between USAID and NASA. SERVIR uses NASA remote detection tools, like satellites and aerial sensing equipment, coupled with development expertise from USAID and partners like SIG and others, to provide tools for government officials and other local decision-makers that will help them make smart, science-based decisions on environmental issues.

SERVIR has been set up in many regions of the world, and the Lower Mekong Region is one of them. SERVIR-Mekong focuses on predicting seasonal crop yields, assessing how future climate change will impact the region, monitoring the landscape and the ecosystem services it provides, and developing climate change adaptation tools for agriculture, rangelands, fisheries and aquaculture. Over large landscapes, in complex ecosystems, and in a changing climate, people often do not have the information they need to solve local, national, and regional land use challenges.

SERVIR-Mekong, a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and implemented by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, is helping provide this vital information.

SIG, a leader in spatial informatics, supported SERVIR-Mekong in developing technologies that simplify accessing data and imagery from satellites. Once this data is easily accessible, analysts can integrate this information into tools and models that are tailored for the needs and technical capabilities of the on-the-ground users to those who need it most.

Land cover map from 2012 as visualized by the RLCMS.

SERVIR empowers decision-makers with tools, products, and services to act locally on climate-sensitive issues such as disasters, agriculture, water, ecosystems, and land use. SERVIR-Mekong partners with leading regional organizations to help the five countries in the Lower Mekong Region: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam.

SERVIR-Mekong, with support from SIG, has developed the Regional Land Cover Monitoring System (RLCMS). This tool was created through cataloging different types of land and uses, defining a framework that all of these land use types fit into, and then feeding them into Google Earth Engine using various algorithms. The system then produces high-quality regional maps and map tools for decision-makers. SERVIR-Mekong currently works closely with the Government of Myanmar by submitting land cover monitoring data to the Forest Department to meet their greenhouse gas reporting requirements to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Eco-Dash is another SERVIR-Mekong tool created with SIG support. Eco-Dash is a computerized tool that can track landscape-scale changes, as for example urban expansion, and increases or decreases in forest cover. The tool uses satellite imagery coupled with tools or methods to analyze those images –  to track changes across the landscape and enable comparison of biological productivity in an area over time. Remote Sensing, an MPDI journal, recently published a scientific manuscript presenting the technology and methods applied in the ECO-DASH.

Flooding from March – September of 2015, as visualized by the SERVIR flood mapping tool.

SIG also helped develop the historical flood analysis tool. Currently, there is lack of systematic flood risk analysis. Flood risk assessment requires several complex layers of information, including historical surface water levels, land use patterns, and the geo-and hydrological features of the land. Such information can be coupled with the mapping of the location of past floods and population location data, to inform users of the system about the likelihood of flooding and associated risks. Doing this sort of mapping manually is challenging because of the abundance of spatial and temporal data that is needed. The historical flood analysis tool overcomes these barriers by using satellite observation data from the Global Surface Water dataset, which contains data from 1984 to 2015 which can be analyzed easily to provide statistics on the extent and change of surface water. This tool then allows users to amp where and when floods are likely to occur, so that local populations can be moved or prepared as necessary.


This partnership with SERVIR has been a real success story for SIG, and for development.  Not only have SIG been able to work with a lot of talented partner organizations, but the results of the work have had tangible positive impacts on the region.  Government agencies and other users have been able to use the various tools to develop plans to sustain natural waterways, create land use plans that conserve the most carbon, and plan what to plant and when depending upon seasonal climate forecasts.  And, it’s another one of a growing number of examples of how well-applied science and technology can directly help not just other specialists, but smallholder shrimp farmers too.


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