Interdisciplinary Remote Sensing, Modeling,
and Validation of Environmental Processes
West and Central African regions have, over the years, experienced repeated occurrences of a variety of disastrous events such as drought, epidemics, famine, and flooding. Although scientific data are necessary to facilitate proper assessment and early warning of these conditions, the region has only a limited number of ground-based monitoring stations that can collect scientific data. Therefore, it can benefit greatly from the abundant space-based Earth observations and associated modeling products available from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and European Commission (EC) Copernicus program, and other science agencies/programs. These observations, if properly harnessed, can greatly improve the monitoring, forecasting, and mitigation of the above disastrous phenomena in West and Central Africa. Unfortunately, that region still lacks adequate resources and the expertise required to properly utilize Earth observation and other climate information, which are needed to minimize the adverse impacts of extreme conditions and facilitate planning for the benefit of the entire population.
Over the years, there have been a number of research activities conducted by the international scientific community in West Africa. For instance, since 2010, NASA has supported an interdisciplinary research project that is investigating the possible impacts of the northern sub-Saharan African land use activities on the regional water cycle and climate. That research involves a group of experts from different earth science disciplines, using a large variety of satellite datasets and numerical models to investigate the problem, and has produced a number of interesting results, some of which have been published in high-impact professional journals [e.g. Yang et al. 2013; Ichoku and Ellison 2014; Zhang et al. 2014; Gatebe et al. 2014; Engelbrecht et al. 2015, Ichoku et al. 2016]. However, 2017 marks the conclusion of that project, and most of the scientists involved in the study live outside of Africa. Unfortunately, such has been the situation with most serious scientific research activities that have focused on West and Central Africa, whereby interesting research results only live on the pages of professional journals, but are never directly applied for societal benefit in that region. A recent major research effort that is worthy of note, particularly in relation to the environment, weather, and climate, is the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analyses (AMMA; Redelsperger, et al. 2006), which was an international project conducted to improve our knowledge and understanding of the West African Monsoon (WAM) and its variability. NASA sponsored a component of the AMMA field experiment under the banner of NAMMA (i.e. NASA AMMA). However, participation by the regional scientists in all such major scientific endeavors has been non-existent, or minimal at best. The West African environment is extremely vulnerable, especially in the face of the changing climate, and requires the development of strong and coherent expertise to conduct and sustain appropriate research needed for mitigation and resilience. This can be effective only if many of the scientists are residents of the region, such that they can develop a sustainable culture of scientific validation, and effectively influence managers and policy makers in the proper use of scientific results.
Fortunately, a number of international initiatives focused on West Africa are presently developing concurrently. These are still funded entirely by foreign donors, but in contrast with previous efforts, there is increased consciousness about involving regional scientists in a more integral fashion. For instance, the German government has sponsored the development of the West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL) – a large-scale research-focused Climate Service Center designed to help tackle the challenge of the imminent effects of climate change and increased variability in West African countries, in order to develop effective adaptation and mitigation measures that will enhance the resilience of human and environmental systems to climate. The European Union (EU) has initiated an international research program that focuses on the Dynamics-Aerosol-Chemistry-Cloud interactions in West Africa (DACCIWA). This is a five-year program of research that includes an investigation of cloud-aerosol interactions, their effects on radiation and precipitation, and a comprehensive assessment of their impacts on human and ecosystem health. The United States government is establishing a SERVIR node in West Africa this year. This is a joint development initiative of NASA and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and SERVIR works in partnership with leading regional organizations world-wide to help developing countries use information provided by Earth observing satellites and geospatial technologies for managing climate risks and land use. The objective is to empower decision-makers with tools, products, and services to act locally on climate-sensitive issues such as disasters, agriculture, water, and ecosystems and land use. However, the SERVIR West Africa node is still at the formulation stage. Given that SERVIR is focused on serving application and decision-making needs, the proposed workshop can complement its objectives in the region by facilitating the training of younger researchers on interfacing research with applications.
The co-occurrence of the above major initiatives at this time can provide the synergy to tackle the West African regional environmental, resources, and climate issues most effectively. What is needed to consummate this tremendous opportunity to the greatest benefit are regionally based, high-quality research experts with the potential to harness these initiatives properly, to collaborate with international partners effectively, and to carry the benefits forward into the future in a scientifically robust and sustainable manner, to successfully combat the imminent ravaging effects of land degradation and climate change. The lecturers are drawn from top-notch scientists who have done considerable research in West Africa, many of whom are of African origin though based in Europe and the U.S., and others who, even though based in Africa, have been able to conduct similar research successfully. These African-based scientists not only serve as excellent examples that research can be done successfully while living in Africa, but their technical expertise and success stories inspires younger scientists.
This workshop is extremely crucial and timely, as it provides the unique opportunity to start or reinforce a regional scientific collaboration culture among young scientists in West Africa, and opens the door for a West African scientific contingent to participate actively in the international Earth science space-research community. This group can then kindle a process that can influence the regional/national/local operational agencies and policy makers to embrace the use of scientific data for decision-making. By making sound decisions based on scientific data and creating public awareness and knowledge of the basis of the decision making, the society will likely fare much better, avoid complications due to political/ethnic divisions as much as possible, and prepare for climate mitigation and adaptation with a united purpose, as the effects of climate change do not respect local or even national political/administrative boundaries.
The data to be used in this workshop may be categorized under remote sensing products and numerical model output. In the remote sensing category, we emphasize the use of the already well-developed geophysical data products from major space missions that are freely and publicly available via the Internet from the U.S. and Europe, and the need for their validation. Concerning model simulations, we analyze results from a number of numerical models and conduct hands-on demonstrations of how the regional scientists can acquire and use these simulations, or even run their own simulations when computing facilities and bandwidth are available and minimally adequate.
To ensure efficient and user-friendly access to data and results, the participants are taught how to access and analyze abundant satellite data resources through the NASA Giovanni, NASA Worldview, and the CNES/CNRS/U.Lille ICARE interfaces. For processing and analyzing SAR and other types of imagery from the Sentinel series, we will teach the use of the Sentinel Application Platform (SNAP), which is distributed freely by the European Space Agency (ESA). To facilitate flexibility in allowing the users to develop their own tools for specific studies, the participants are taught the use of freely available online resources, such as Google Earth Engine, which allows the utilization of web map services like Google Maps, Google Charts, and other resources, to develop simple analysis tools that can facilitate local/regional data analysis within the global context, even in low bandwidth situations. The objective is to train researchers that can utilize freely available and easily accessible satellite data products and appropriate tools to help educate the West African regional population on the need and value of the use of space-based information for decision-making for the benefit of the larger society.