BICSA – Biophysical Changes in the Sahel: Ground and Satellite Based Evidence Across Scales and Disciplines

(since 2015)

MARIE SkŁodowska-CURIE ACTIONS Individual Fellowships (IF) Call: H2020-MSCA-IF-2014

Project Partners: Martin Brandt, Rasmus Fensholt, Kjeld Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen), Moussa Sall, Abdoul Aziz Diouf (Centre de Suivi Ecologique), Aleixandre Verger (CREAF), Cheikh Mbow (ICRAF)

Human and climate induced desertification/degradation of arable lands has been of major concern for livelihoods and food security in drylands during recent decades. In this context, the semi-arid Sahel region in West Africa has been subject to intensive international research including several controversial and mutually contradicting studies. Recent Earth Observation (EO) studies show a positive trend in rainfall and vegetation greenness over the last decades (known as the re-greening of the Sahel). This has been interpreted as an increase in biomass and contradicts prevailing narratives of a vicious cycle of widespread degradation caused by human overuse and climate change. However, new scientific outcome suggests a massive loss in biodiversity in the same areas. According to common definitions by UNCCD (the UN Convention to Combat Desertification), this is closely linked to desertification, which again contradicts the beneficial effects of the greening theory. These apparent oppositions in definitions and scientific outcome result from little investment in studying long-term ground-based observations, making many conclusions on greening/degradation premature and speculative. Based on the skills of the applicant, 30+ years of experience of the host, and supplementary collaboration partners from Africa, Europe and the USA, the overall purpose of this project is to assess and understand the opposing trends of biomass increase and species decline in the Sahel. By combining a range of long-term in-situ field data records (1980s-today) with newest available EO time series and Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite/aerial imagery, an improved understanding on the role of trees, herbs and species diversity on the re-greening Sahel will be achieved. These trends will be translated in ecosystem services and beneficial effects on livelihood. We thus contribute with a significant impact on the understanding of climate and human induced vegetation changes in a semi-arid area and in the long-term on decision-makers in the Sahel region. Knowing the underlying biophysical mechanisms of the Sahel greening will resolve many contradictions regarding the greening/desertification paradigms and thus be the basis for many future studies. The proposed project will improve the scientific understanding of linkages between ground and satellite based data across various spatial and temporal scales, the integration of the datasets and their applicability. New monitoring methods of biophysical variables address challenges in land management and food security in response to climatic changes. To achieve this, I will be trained in cutting edge technical skills (EO data processing, evaluation and application, time series analysis; object based mapping; field monitoring approaches for long-term assessment of vegetation productivity and biodiversity; socializing pixels by working with humans living within these; ecological services; complementary skills) both in Europe and Africa. Finally, this project will encourage a North-South collaboration in common scientific interest that is relevant for development and environmental research.


MICLE – Climate Change, Environmental Changes and Migration – Social-Ecological Conditions of Population Movements: The Example of the Sahelian Countries Mali and Senegal

(funded by BMBF – German Federal Ministry of Education and Research)

Project partners: Diana Hummel, Viktoria van der Land (ISOE, Frankfurt/Main), Martin Doevenspeck , Cyrus Samimi, Martin Brandt, Clemens Romankiewicz (University of Bayreuth)

The pivotal research question of this project focuses on the social-ecological conditions causing migration and the impact of climate change on these conditions. In this context, we assume that adaptation strategies of individuals, groups, and societies to (climatic and non-climatic) environmental changes depend on specific social-ecological conditions. These conditions are affected by ecological, social, demographic, economic and political aspects, resulting in complex interactions, which constitutes the context for the decision to migrate. It will be analysed if and how these conditions could be changed by societal and political actions aiming to prevent forced migration as the last adaptation strategy.
The empirical research of, the project will focus on specific regions in the neighbouring countries Mali and Senegal, where climate change will likely intensify environmental changes and where an increase in migration is expected for the future. The overall research question will be analysed by focussing on land degradation as an example for environmental changes. Both countries will serve as an example for regions in Africa (and other regions in developing countries) affected by heavy droughts, land degradation, and desertification and where climate change will very likely intensify these implications. In both countries considerable internal migration movements can be observed, which constitute an interface to international migration. The study pursues the following goals:
1) Development of system knowledge: A better understanding of the complex interrelations between climate change, social-ecological transformations and migration processes will be developed. Special attention will be given on how concerned people are perceiving environmental changes and land degradation based on their each specific social, cultural, and biographic backgrounds, and how they anticipate and evaluate these changes. Insights will be gained on the moving population groups and their reasons for migration (or their reasons not to move), as well as on the impacts of environmental changes on their decisions to migrate. Based on those findings, it will be possible to obtain more detailed knowledge on the specific vulnerability of individuals, groups, and regional communities towards environmental changes.
2) Development of methodological knowledge: With the successive composition of a Bayesian Belief Network, a method will be developed that supports the integration of natural scientific and social scientific knowledge. Thus, natural scientific knowledge on the implications of regional climate change on natural conditions and social scientific knowledge about the interrelation of environmental changes and migration shall be integrated. On this basis, a proceeding shall be developed linking empirical findings and methodologies as well as theoretical approaches of migration research to concepts and methods of the social scientific environmental research and research on development.
3) Development of orientation knowledge: The practical aim of the project is to draw conclusions for decision-makers and relevant stakeholders. Scopes for decision-making and regulations shall be highlighted with the aim to increase the adaptive capacity of individuals, groups, and regional communities to environmental changes, and to prevent forced migration. Thereby scientific knowledge and societal action shall be bridged. In addition, the project’s central findings will be made available to the scientific community as well as to the public in order to stimulate the discourse about the interrelations of climate-induced environmental changes and migration in science and politics.

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