How free and open data are fostering innovative applications in Africa
A SERVIR project put space-based rainforest data online. Now the data are giving great apes more space.
Web of Life
The ecological footprint of the world’s tropical rainforests is enormous. It’s estimated they support 50 percent of all terrestrial life, yet cover less than seven percent of the globe.
What’s more, continuing deforestation not only threatens the habitat of many species, but also contributes to carbon emissions. The reason? Rainforests, and their living biomass, store large amounts of global carbon; known as a forest’s “carbon stock”. When humans clear rainforests, there’s less biomass to store carbon.
Aiming to support the global conservation initiative called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), members of the SERVIR Applied Sciences Team (AST) focused on creating an opensource database that mapped the world’s tropical rainforest biomass. “Making data freely available is not only how science advances, but also how people can most effectively make use of knowledge and information for their various applications,” noted SERVIR AST member Scott Goetz. The team’s hope was this intentionally shared data would ultimately spark applications ideas for conserving areas of unprotected rainforest around the world.
First though, the team needed Earth observations to map these global oases.
Goetz, along with team members Patrick Jantz and Nadine Laporte, used field measurements, NASA lidar observations, and MODIS images from Aqua and Terra, to create a global map estimating the amount and distribution of aboveground rainforest biomass across the Earth’s tropics.
Next, they wanted to determine where conservation efforts were already protecting tropical rainforests. For this, the team downloaded 5,600 world protected areas from a global database. Many countries designate specific locations as protected in an effort to slow or stop rainforest loss. This preservation, however, can at times create other problems for the local ecology. The fragmented nature of these habitats can interrupt species’ migration routes, limit food and water availability, and impact biodiversity. Knowing this, the team assessed ways to link these protected areas to each other along their nearest highest-biomass corridors, which identified new tracts of land that conservation efforts could target.
The final analysis revealed 16,257 corridors— green pathways that could potentially connect thousands of isolated patches of rainforest around the world. These corridors collectively cover 3.4 million square kilometers and contain an estimated 51 gigatons of carbon.
A Pathway to Conservation
This open-source corridor data went online in 2016 and already inspired an application— guiding great ape conservation in Africa.
GRASP is the Great Apes Survival Partnership, a United Nations initiative for ensuring the long-term survival of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans and their habitats. In a GRASP-REDD+ mapping project, the UN worked with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to develop an online tool. This tool superimposes the SERVIR AST-identified biomass corridors with the distribution of Africa’s great apes. In 2016, GRASP-REDD+ launched the tool during a conservation meeting with nine West African countries in Monrovia, Liberia.
"You cannot protect apes in Africa or Asia without also protecting the forests in which they live." Doug Cress, GRASP
So how are these giant primates reaping the benefits of biomass?
“The carbon tool helps to identify areas where REDD+ investments could potentially generate biodiversity benefits, in our case for great apes. We looked at corridors which could potentially link great ape habitats, and where REDD+ could provide the necessary seed funding to protect these areas,” explained Johannes Refisch, GRASP Program Manager. “The government of Liberia has confirmed that it will use the carbon tool for its national REDD+ prioritization work.”
Harrison S. Karnwea, the managing director of Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority was excited about the application of this new data. “This will help us a great deal here in Liberia,” he said. “It will help us in determining which areas are important and should receive our highest priority. Conservation is a great resource, and applying it scientifically in this way is very innovative.”
For GRASP Program Coordinator Doug Cress, it is crucial that conservation efforts like this continue to work as a partnership— where rainforest preservation and species conservation go hand in hand. “You cannot protect apes in Africa or Asia without also protecting the forests in which they live,” he remarked. “This project does an excellent job of emphasizing the overlap.”
And Jantz says there is more great news in store for the great apes. “We are now in the process of supporting the creation of forest corridors in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape [in Uganda] to conserve eastern chimpanzee populations and looking at possible incentives such as funding through REDD+ to encourage farmers to conserve forest on their land.”
SERVIR is a NASA-USAID venture that fosters applications of Earth observations to help developing countries assess environmental conditions and changes to improve their planning, decisions, and actions. https://www.servirglobal.net
Read more Making Space for Earth blog posts
It's only natural, I know. You see all the wreckage on this blog and you think, "Ok, but surely I can keep my order from being wrecked, right? I mean, all I have to do is help the baker out a little!
"Why, if I just spell it out clearly, military style..."
Nice job, Ace.
"Or maybe if I write it all down...
"And if I indicate which part is the actual text..."
"Um... Or what if I ask for just a single letter? That's easy, right?"
Color me impressed. Or magenta.
"Ok, fine, I get it. You've made your point. No text. I guess I'll just ask for a flower or something."
Thanks to Katy E., Cristina B., Terry M., Brandt H., & Anony M. for making this post literally painful.
So it's time I faced facts: I've been writing this blog for seventeen years and it is getting bloody difficult to come up with stuff to say. (At least, right now.)
My usual book launch promo stuff last month was derailed totally by family circumstances (that won't recur). I really don't feel like kvetching about politics, either the ongoing UK-specific slow-motion train wreck that is Brexit, or the equally bizarre theatre of the absurd and evil that is the current incumbent of the White House. The global neo-nazi resurgence might be another angle, but I'm not the ideal person to write a "why Nazis are bad, 101" for folks who haven't already got the message—I'm not patient enough and the subject strikes much too close to home for comfort. (I grew up attending a synagogue with older members who had numbers tattooed on their arms; I'm pretty sure that if I lived in the US right now then I'd be a gun owner by now, and stockpiling ammunition and escape plans.)
These are dangerous times in the anglophone lands, and worse is coming; the UK seems to be rushing headlong towards a private debt crisis (largely due to nearly a decade of misguided austerity policies, but with insane ramping of student loan debt on top) and the economic uncertainty induced by the Brexit-triggered recession we're entering isn't helping ... and the Tangerine Shitgibbon in Chief seems to have decided that, in comparison with a short victorious war with North Korea, sending the US army back into Afghanistan is a vote-winner.
Against such news headlines I don't much feel like prognosticating about the near future right now.
I'd like to be able to take comfort by speculating about how things might have turned out differently in another time-line, but that's not so good either. Imagine the Brexit referendum and the US Presidential election results were flipped: where would we be now?
Let's tackle the UK first. David Cameron would still in all probability be Prime Minister, Theresa May would still be Home Secretary, and Boris Johnson would still be a joke. I see no way the UK wouldn't have been hit by several terrorist attacks—Manchester, London Bridge, the same sorry litany—so the likely political response from Dave and Theresa would be the same (kiss your civil rights goodybye, oh, and we're going to censor the internet while we're about it). Osborne would still be Chancellor, so a continuation of his austerity program would be on-going, albeit with an economy not sinking into recession and a currency that isn't crashing to a 30 year low. So it'd all be fucking depressing for those of us on the "let's not starve poor people to death" left, but at least it'd be a familiar kind of depressing instead of an "oh god and by god I mean Cthulhu why are they flooring the accelerator towards that cliff edge?" depressing.
In the USA, let's suppose Hilary Clinton took the Electoral College—just—but the House and Senate seats landed the same way. By now we would for a certainty have a Kenneth Starr 2.0 investigating the Clinton White House on some pretext or other ("but her emails!" would be a good start, even if "Benghazi!" flopped), while a drunk and angry Donald Trump would be tweeting up a storm about how he was robbed and threatening to sue Crooked Hilary in the Supreme Court over those rigged votes she bought from (... insert nonsensical Trumpian rant here). There would probably be deadlock between the executive branch and legislature over Clinton's choice of a new Supreme Court justice, but the exploding clown car attempts at repealing the ACA would have broken down immediately on the inconvenient problem of a Democrat president. The US government would have competent civil service leadership in place, mostly inherited from the Obama administration. There'd be none of the chaotic misrule we've seen this year. But there would still be angst and drama and threats of impeachment, and a President tempted to use foreign military adventurism as a tool of distraction ... and unlike Trump, this alternate-45th POTUS would know exactly how to make that happen. I'm calling it for a US/Russian clash in Syrian airspace, or a disastrous North Korean miscalculation. (What doesn't happen is Clinton going after Iran: she was part of the team that brokered the deal. It's probably too early for a presidential visit and a formal apology for Operation AJAX, at least unless she makes it into a second term, but at least that particular pot would be off the boil.) And the neo-Nazis would still be rebranding themselves as the alt-right and getting their fangs into pop culture via social media and the Republican party via Breitbart Media and Fox.
Tentative diagnosis: we're in a deviant time-line, careering towards a catastrophe. But the time-line we branched off between last June and November held all the seeds of our current doom and we'd have ended up here sooner or later. The root cause is the breakdown of the beige dictatorship at a point where wholly new and frightening tools of propaganda have become available and the social media many people trust are themselves in thrall to toxic agendas. The progressive opposition is chaotic and scattered and racist rabble-rousers have pulled their jack boots on and gotten marching, and they seem to have a first-mover advantage (if only because most of our mass media is owned by chancreous cockstains like Rupert Murdoch).
I'm glad I sprung for the hardcopy of this for two reasons: one, I like to mark up my nonfiction, and two, its formatting! The left-hand page in every two-page spread is text; the right-hand page has an illustration related to the material on the left-hand page. While the illustrations are not technically the most accomplished, they are generally extremely effective communicative cartoons or diagrams.
This book comes with a ton of blurbs, and Cory Doctorow's--"Does for games what Understanding Comics [by Scott McCloud] did for sequential art"--pretty much sums up how I feel. I've read other game design books that were insightful, or thorough, but the Koster is accessible and very interesting in its approach to what makes games games, and how to make them fun (in the instances where that's a thing--cf. Brenda Romero's Train).
One of Koster's arguments is that "with games, learning is the drug" (40)--a game that interests us is one that strikes the necessary balance of not too easy (Tic-Tac-Toe, for most adults) and not too hard (multiple failure modes possible, depending on the individual--witness me and chess or go ). He suggests that games (and play, which is common in a lot of young animals!) are an artifact of how we try to learn survival skills, and moves forward into making suggestions as to how to move the form forward into values/skills more suitable for the modern era than "kill things" or "jump over things" or "search for all the things."
 Joe gave up on teaching me go when I told him I have severe difficulty with visual patterns. In fact, I am starting to wonder if aphantasia just screws me over for this kind of game in general. :p
There's also a particularly interesting chapter on ethics and entertainment where he discusses the difference between the game system and the flavor/dressing:
The bare mechanics of a game may indeed carry semantic freighting, but odds are that it will be fairly abstract. A game about aiming is a game about aiming, and there's no getting around that. It's hard to conceive of a game about aiming that isn't about shooting, but it has been done--there are several gmaes where instead of shooting bullets with a gun, you are instead shooting pictures with a camera. (170)
The bare mechanics of the game do not determine its meaning. Let's try a thought experiment. Let's picture a mass murder game wherein there is a gas chamber shaped like a well. You the player are dropping innocent victims down into the gas chamber, and they come in all shapes and sizes. There are old ones and young ones, fat ones and tall ones. As they fall to the bottom, they grab onto each other and try to form human pyramids to get to the top of the well. Should they manage to get out, the game is over and you die. But if you pack them in tightly enough, the ones on the bottom succumb to the gas and die.
I do not want to play this game. Do you? Yet it is Tetris. (172)
In general, Koster has a background in game design AND writing AND music, and he draws on all three in his analysis of games, as well as other disciplines (e.g. psychology). It makes the book a scintillating read. I can't believe I waited so long to read this--but it was exactly what I wanted to read last week, so hey. Highly recommended.
We saw it. We both missed the first diamond ring because we didn't know you should take off the glasses while you still see a tiny sliver of orange, but we saw the ending diamond ring right before we put our glasses back on. I saw red-pink Baily's beads around parts of the moon's circumference during most of totality--at least I think I did--I didn't know you could see them the whole time. We got to see the wispy corona--I know they vary per eclipse--I think
I didn't register the temp dropping as the moon covered more of the sun, just that I wasn't sweltering anymore and I was feeling really comfortable, so it probably dropped 20 degrees from the 90's to the 70's. Afterwards, when D mentioned it, I was "oh yeah, the temp did drop!"
What was very wonderful is that just before totality, the cicadas in the beautiful Spanish Moss adorned pines and oaks behind us started singing.--so we got the critter special effects as well.
The clouds were pretty sunset on the horizon. We didn't see a lot of stars come out. The brightest one was way off to the right at 3 o'clock--west--I wonder if it was Jupiter or Venus? There was a dim star very close to the eclipse at 11 o'clock--was that mercury?
Another cool thing is before the totality, I remembered to run up and look at the sand under a tree on the edge of the beach and saw tons of tiny crescent suns reflected through the leaves--got pics of those I will post when I can upload them. Thank you spiralsheep for turning me on to that--an awesome special effect. I might have seen some of the pre-eclipse gravity bands on a light gray metal sheets on the pier, but I'm not sure.
As the eclipse receded, the sky looked very dark southeast of us over the lake--I wondered if we were seeing the shadow falling on the clouds out toward Charleston and the shoreline--where it was reported to be cloudy--I don't know if anyone got to see it there--haven't had time to look at reports.
We were so lucky because there were clouds that at times totally obscured the sun as it was receding. D thinks she saw reflections of the moon's face (the man in the moon) on the sun's surface as the moon was receding.
It wasn't a life changing experience, maybe because I'm so wowed by so many of nature's details that many people don't take time to notice--(Eee to see palm trees out in the wild and Spanish moss again!), but it makes me feel very lucky and grateful because it would have been so easy for the view to have eluded us behind chance clouds that were so near. And it has been such a fun adventure to have.
And I have a wonderful new petsitter who spent the night with my cats, and Tuxie slept against her, so finally knowing I can leave my cats in security is kind of a life changing thing for me I haven't had for many years.
I will post more about this brief but wonderful adventure with pics in another post. I hope those of you who could catch the eclipse enjoyed. The viewing glasses we have now make watching even the partial eclipse so much cooler than when I was a kid. And yay for the wonderful NASA feeds--it was so cool to watch Oregon get their totality on screen just as ours was beginning outside while we were finishing lunch in The LakeHouse. What a great day! We were so lucky! Goodnight, my friends! <3<3<3
Prompt: hexarchate, "calendrical sword."
Ajewen Cheris and her girlfriend Linnis Orua paused outside the shop. A banner of ink painted onto silk fluttered in the flirtatious artificial breeze. Orua had grown up on a station with less naturalistic ideas of aesthetics, and found this dome-city with its aleatory weather nerve-wracking. She still spooked whenever there was a wind, which entertained Cheris because Orua also had long, luxurious waves of hair that rippled beautifully. "We were always told to be aware of strange air currents as a possible sign of carapace breach!" Orua had protested when Cheris teased her about it.
"Blades for All Occasions," Cheris read. She had been saving for this moment throughout the first two years of academy, and practicing for it besides. Orua didn't understand her fondness for the sport of dueling, but she had agreed to come along for moral support.
"Well, no sense in lingering outside," Orua said. She grinned at Cheris and walked forward. The door swooshed open for her.
Cheris followed her in. A tame (?) falcon on a perch twisted its head sideways to peer at her as she entered. The falcon was either genetically engineered or dyed or even painted, although she wasn't sure how she felt about any of those alternatives: its primary feathers shaded from black to blood red, with striking metallic gold bands toward the tips. It looked gaudy as hell and quintessentially Kel.
Orua was busy suppressing a giggle at the falcon's aesthetics. Cheris poked her in the side to get her to stop and looked around the displays, wide-eyed. Her eyes stung suspiciously at the sight of all those weapons, everything from tactical knives to ornamented daggers with rough-hewn gems in their pommels and pragmatic machetes.
But best of all were the calendrical swords. Deactivated, they looked deceptively harmless, bladeless hilts of metal in varying colors and finishes. Cheris's gaze was drawn inexorably to one made of voidmetal chased in gold, with an unusual basket hilt. It was showy, extremely Kel, and an invitation to trouble. Only a cadet who had an exemplary record and was an excellent duelist would dare carry such a calendrical sword. And besides, the lack of a price tag told her there was no way she could afford it even if she could, in honor, lay claim to such a thing.
Cheris sighed, then looked up into her girlfriend's eyes. "I wish," she said, her voice soft.
"Let me help you pick," Orua said, ignoring the sales assistant who was watching them imperturbably with his arms folded behind his back.
Cheris blinked. "I thought you didn't know anything about dueling?" she teased. Orua paid more attention to the special effects and makeup on dueling shows than the actual dueling.
"I don't know anything about dueling," Orua said, as the sales assistant radiated disapproval. "But I know a lot about you." Her eyes turned sly, and Cheris hoped that Orua wouldn't get too specific here of all places. She grabbed Cheris's hand and tugged her along to a completely different display. "Look!"
At first Cheris wasn't impressed by the calligraphy-stroke plainness of the calendrical swords on display. Then she saw that that the metal evinced a faint iridescence, like that of a raven's feather. She particularly liked the one whose textured design incorporated the first digits of the base of the natural logarithm.
Orua stooped to whisper right in Cheris's ear, "Tonight I'm going to see how many digits of that number you can recite before I get you to--"
"I'll buy this one," Cheris interrupted, very loudly, and pointed.
Unseen, the sales assistant and Orua exchanged winks.
Well, maybe not art in the sense of a mural, statue, or even graffiti. But there is so much stray stuff–stones, branches, bits of garbage–scattered around the trails and lakeshore, and sometimes people mess about with it, then leave it for other people to find.
X marks the spot–such a simple thing. For all I know, this might’ve even been an accident. But whenever I see crossed sticks of any type, I think of the short story by Karl Edward Wagner. You know, “Sticks,” the one that brings to mind aspects of The Blair Witch Project.
A plastic bottle, a cap, and some weathered branches, and it’s Clint Driftwood.
(“The Ecstasy of Gold” from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly plays in the background)
One day you have an altar…
Tiny critters that walk beneath are never seen again.
Then there are those times when Mother Nature gets into the act and puts human efforts to shame. The most striking examples are usually driftwood: sticks, branches, or occasionally large sections of trunk. I don’t know what caused the curlicue designs on this log–possibly a disease or infestation of some sort? They remind me of ancient writing or drawings.
This log’s gnarled surface reminded me of a roiling sky painted by van Gogh.
All this, in just the last few weeks.
I love my morning walks. I never know what I’ll find.
Alas, I have this novel to work on. :p 2,000 words on Dragon Pearl today! (I'm doing revisions, but I had to rip out a few chapters that weren't working and replace them with all-new ones, always thrilling.)
If you like that, you will like this book. It's one of those slim but pithy volumes that precisely captures a time, a place, and a state of mind.
I've always had a fascination with ballet, ever since my second-grade teacher offered a trip to see the Nutcracker Suite (it was at least ten years before I realized that the second word was not "sweet") to her top three students. I had no idea what that was, other than that it was clearly desirable, so I went all-out to make sure that I'd get the prize. I was sufficiently enchanted with The Nutcracker and the general air of specialness surrounding the entire experience that I begged my parents for ballet lessons, at which I lasted something like three sessions. I don't recall the exact problem, but based on my age I'm guessing that there was too much standing around.
After that I confined myself to reading ballet books, which was more fun that actually doing it. Had I tried when I was older, I might have stuck with it for longer. Based on Bentley book and everything else I've read about ballet dancing, it has an austere, stoic, boot camp, push your limits atmosphere that would have really appealed to me if I'd been three to five years older. And then I would have gotten my heart broken, because I am not built to be a ballerina.
Winter Season beautifully depicts the illusion shown to the audience and the reality experienced by the dancers, and how the dancers live the illusion as well. It's got all the fascinating details of any good backstage memoir, without bitterness or cynicism. Even as it ground down her body, Bentley never stopped loving ballet; she seems to feel that she was lucky to have the chance to live the dream, just for the opportunity to spend a few minutes every day being the perfect expression of her body and the choreographer's art.
Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal, with a new preface
And I will place the next bit under a cut in case you just want to read about Winter Season. As opposed to ass. ( Read more... )