School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences

Dr Edward Mitchard

I'm Ed Mitchard, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

I study ways in which we can use satellite data to monitor woody cover and biomass from space, especially in the forests, savannas and woodlands of Africa. Tropical forests, savannas and woodlands support over 1.4 billion of the world's people, with many of them living in poverty. They also supply a great service to the rest of the world, as apart from containing over 80 % of the world's biodiversity they moderate and modulate our climate, protecting water resources and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. I hope that my research can help prevent deforestation and degradation of these valuable resources by enabling the development of viable alternative livelihoods for those people that live there.

My main study sites can be found here, and you can read more about my current research in my blog here.

In my PhD (completed summer 2011) I did fieldwork and projects in Cameroon, Uganda and South Africa, and was also involved in projects in Gabon and Mozambique. My PhD was funded by Gatsby Plants, and my principle supervisor was Dr Patrick Meir, with second supervisors Sassan Saatchi (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Iain Woodhouse (University of Edinburgh) and France Gerard (CEH Wallingford). An electronic copy of my thesis can be accessed here.

After my PhD I obtained a Research Fellowship from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), funding me to research new methods for using satellite data to monitor forests, again mostly in Africa, and to communicate these results to projects and governments. My research followed a number of different threads all relating to the satellite remote sensing of Africa's forests, woodlands and savannas, and also expanded to include pantropical biomass mapping and comparing such pantropical maps. I am now a Chancellor's Fellow, still at the University of Edinburgh, and manage a group of postdocs and PhD students. My group is funded by NERC, the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the US Forest Service.

Research themes:

1. I study the response of satellite radar data to aboveground biomass. I have published papers on using the ALOS PALSAR and JERS-1 satellites to monitor biomass and biomass change in Cameroon, Uganda and Mozambique. We have found that L-band radar backscatter appears to respond to biomass in a fairly consistent manner across the continent, which is a very exciting result with implications for biomass monitoring and mapping for conservation, avoided deforestation and carbon sequestration projects.

2. I also look at using optical satellite data for studying landcover change as well as woody cover and biomass mapping. Optical data has many advantages compared to radar data, for example it has been collected systematically from space since the early 1970s (compared to 1990s for radar data), it is much easier to interpret visually, and it is collected by numerous satellites at the full range of spatial and temporal resolution (from a frequency of up to every 15 minutes for geostationary satellites at a very coarse resolution, up to a sub-meter resolution for tasked acquisitions from hyperspatial satellites). However, it does not respond directly to biomass - relationships that are found with biomass tend not to be applicable to other areas and can be very season dependent, as essentially what is being seen is the colour and density of leaves, not the 3-D structure of the vegetation as with radar. I am also interested in ways of combining optical and radar data to better characterise landscape characteristics and changes.

3. I am interested in working with end-users to discover the most useful and cost-effective ways satellite data can be used. The main focus of this area of my research is the planned Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects, and I am involved in particular with projects in Mozambique through my collaboration with Envirotrade, and in Cameroon and Gabon through the Wildlife Conservation Society. I attended the COP15 summit in Copenhagen in December 2009 as an advisor to the Gabonese government on issues of REDD and the satellite monitoring of biomass and deforestation.

4. The above are all at a local to regional scale. However, I am also interested in scaling up these methodologies, and I work on mapping aboveground biomass at a continental and pantropical scale. I also work on comparing biomass maps and explaining their differences, and I have developed a web tool to help others compare and contrast such maps in partnership with Ecometrica, which you can find here.

I also have some other projects/areas of interest, including:

- I have done a number of field campaigns in Africa to produce biomass data for the calibration and validation of remote sensing data. I am interested in refining and optimising field methodologies to enable the highest quality data to be collected in minimum time. In combination with my supervisors I have advised various different groups on field methodologies and equipment. I am also interested in developing field methodologies that can be used by local communities (linking to 3 above)

- I have spent about 6 months of my PhD based in Los Angeles, at both the Center for Tropical Research at UCLA, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At UCLA I have become involved in some other projects, covering topics such as the spatial modelling of biodiversity and the importance of transition zones for speciation.

Some links you might be interested in:

My Blog

A site I designed to compare maps of vegetation carbon stocks

My LinkedIn Page

Google citations page

A short video about careers in science I did for 14-16 year olds (click on the 'research scientist' link)