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EU-funded study sets sights on high-tech environmental researchers

The University of Leicester in the UK is leading a team of experts who will launch a research centre that will train a new breed of hi-tech environmental researchers to use the latest satellite technologies and tackle pressing issues arising from climate change.

This Centre of Excellence is supported by the GIONET (‘Initial operations network for Earth observation research training’) project, which is backed with EUR 3.5 million under the Marie Curie Action – Networks for Initial Training of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

Reliable, thorough and up-to-date environmental information is essential for understanding climate change, the impact it has on people’s lives and ways to handle it. GIONET’s European Centre of Excellence in Earth Observation Research Training will develop better methods for monitoring climate change, environmental disasters and land cover change. It will also lead to the development of new methods for research and for addressing disaster relief following landslides and floods as well as for climate change monitoring, protection of tropical rainforests, lake water quality measuring and coastal erosion.

GIONET is expected to satisfy the demand for more researchers and provide skilled personnel for the EU-supported observation programme Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) land monitoring and emergency services.

Heiko Balzter, head of the university’s Department of Geography and coordinator of the project, said: ‘GIONET is training 14 young researchers in satellite remote sensing over the next 4 years. These young scientists will become the research leaders of tomorrow. They will be placed in industry and universities and experience working abroad, as well as getting the best technical training and scientific education.’

Every student is expected to work on a research project and ‘make a practical impact on our ability to monitor the planet from satellite’, according to Professor Balzter, who added that ‘each full GIONET partner organisation is looking to recruit the brightest research students out there, who can really make a big impact on our future satellite monitoring capability’.

A research topic under the GIONET spotlight is the monitoring of the Congo rainforest. The GIONET partners say this vast region of rainforest has experienced less rainfall in the last 10 years, making shipping in large rivers such as the Ubangi difficult. GIONET will look at whether this drying trend is a long-term effect of climate change. The forest is also under threat from logging, according to them.

Researchers have seen fires burning in the Congo when looking at satellite images of heat emissions. However, the tree canopy appears still to be intact after the fire and researchers are investigating the reason for this. They have already learnt from talking to people on the ground that locals are moving into the rainforest to produce charcoal. They cut down a small number of trees, turn them into charcoal and sell it back in their villages. Charcoal is still the main source of heat for cooking, lighting and keeping warm at night across Africa.

The scientists will now study radar images from a Japanese satellite to get the full picture of what is happening in the Congo. Radar can see through clouds, making it ideal to study the Congo, which is very cloudy. They hope to discover exactly how much of the Congo rainforest is still intact and how it can be preserved.

Experts from Germany, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland and the UK are making solid contributions to this study.

For more information, please visit:

University of Leicester

Global Monitoring for Environment and Security

GIONET project factsheet on CORDIS, click

Category: Projects
Data Source Provider: University of Leicester; GIONET
Document Reference: Based on information from the University of Leicester and GIONET
Subject Index: Sustainable development ; Coordination, Cooperation; Scientific Research; Environmental Protection; Space & satellite research; Climate change & Carbon cycle research
RCN: 32956