SIBELIUs is using satellite derived products to provide improved pasture monitoring capabilities in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan to support their large and economically significant herding communities.
In Mongolia the main problem faced by herders, who constitute approximately 30% of its population, are extreme weather events, known as dzuds, which are highly damaging to Mongolia’s economy and devastating for the poorest herders. Dzuds are characterised by dry summers, adversely affecting pasture growth, followed by extreme cold and snow in winter. A typical dzud can impact tens of thousands of herders many of whom will lose all their livestock leaving them in extreme poverty, with associated impacts for the wider economy.
In Kyrgyzstan pasture also plays an important role for its people and economy, however, the country is dealing with severe levels of pasture degradation, in particular the encroachment of unpalatable vegetation. This is compounded by a lack of basic pasture and mapping information, which is required to improve the management of grazing, including the support and maintenance of seasonal mobility.
In both Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, climate change is causing altered precipitation patterns and more frequent heat waves, leading to increased aridity and drought, reducing the reliability of pasture, and further impacting on herders and their livestock.
Satellite derived products
Satellite derived products, can provide regular information about key parameters such as pasture, snow and drought, which are vital for building resilience for herding communities.
Improved products will provide complete-country coverage and will be provided more frequently than is currently possible, for longer periods of the year, more accurately and with improved spatial resolution.
Open Data Cubes
The Mongolian and Kyrgyz Data Cubes are key components of the SIBELIUs infrastructure which allow time series of satellite data and derived products to be queried by the project’s partners. Output products, for example relating to pasture and snow, from the Data Cube can be ingested by desktop applications, web apps and dashboard front ends for stakeholders to integrate into their workflows.
The Mongolian and Kyrgyz Data Cubes will allow for the rapid expansion in the use of satellite data, including unforeseen applications that might be stimulated once different user groups see what data and resultant information is available.
The processing chain that transforms the initially downloaded satellite data into useful products has several stages. The first stage is to generate the analysis ready data, which includes removing or masking unwanted atmospheric effects. The next stage is to generate several intermediate indices, from which a range of pasture and snow products are produced on regular cycles throughout the year. For example, the pasture anomaly product compares the current state of grazing pasture to the long-term average for that time of the year, showing herders and decision makers whether the pasture conditions are currently better or worse than they usually are.
The pasture and snow products form basic building blocks, from which many other more advanced products can be derived, including dzud risk maps, which will aim to give advanced warning of very severe environmental conditions posing a risk to livestock.
Training and sustainability
SIBELIUs is conducting a series of technology training workshops, to ensure that Mongolian and Kyrgyz stakeholders are best placed to benefit from the new satellite technology. In-country training and Jupyter notebooks have been developed focused on skills required to exploit and maintain Open Data Cubes, using Python software.
The project’s impacts are being monitored and evaluated using the global indicator framework for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, SIBELIUs is targeting SDG-1 “No Poverty”, SDG-2 “Zero Hunger” and SDG-13 “Climate Action”.
As a vital component of the project, SIBELIUs will work with herders at selected case study sites to analyse their information requirements, to better understand barriers to uptake of previous products, and to ensure their voices and priorities are heard in the development and distribution of new satellite-based environmental products.
The International Partnership Programme
SIBELIUS is supported by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP). This is a five-year, £152 million programme designed to partner UK space expertise with overseas governments and organisations. It is funded from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund which forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment and is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 17 delivery partners including the Research Councils, the UK Academies, the UK Space Agency and funding bodies. It harnesses the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers, focusing on: funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need.