Remote Sensing for Hazard Mitigation and Resource Protection in Pacific Latin America

Gregg Bluth (PI); John Gierke, Bill Rose, Essa Gross (Co-PI’s)

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE)

             The ultimate goal of integrating research with education is to encourage cross-disciplinary, creative and critical thinking in problem solving and foster the ability to deal with uncertainty in analyzing problems and designing solutions.  Remote sensing provides an ideal setting for engaging a broad range of engineering and science students in developing these qualities.  Although remote sensing has great potential and is commonly used in research for characterizing, monitoring, and exploring large regions in a cost-effective manner, it has not met with much acceptance in terms of practice, especially in the developed world due to a lack of proof or confidence.

        Though much of the developing world has the potential to gain significantly from remote sensing techniques in terms of public health and safety and, eventually, economic development, they lack the resources required to advance the development and practice of remote sensing.  Both developed and developing countries share a mutual interest in furthering remote sensing capabilities for natural hazard mitigation and resource development, and this common commitment creates a solid foundation upon which to build an integrated education and research project. This will prepare students for careers in science and engineering through their efforts to solve a suite of problems needing creative solutions: collaboration with foreign agencies; living abroad immersed in different cultures; and adapting their academic training to contend with potentially difficult field conditions and limited resources.

        This project makes two important advances:  (1)  We intend to develop the first formal linkage among geoscience agencies from four Pacific Latin American countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Ecuador), focusing on the collaborative development of remote sensing tools for hazard mitigation and water resource development; (2) We will build a new educational system of applied research and engineering, using two existing educational programs at Michigan Tech:  a new Peace Corp/Master’s International (PC/MI) program in Natural Hazards which features a 2-year field assignment, and an “Enterprise” program for undergraduates, which gives teams of geoengineering students the opportunity to work for three years in a business-like setting to solve real-world problems  This project will involve 1-2 post-doctoral researchers, 3 Ph.D., 9 PC/MI, and roughly 20 undergraduate students each year.

The intellectual merits include:

-Satellite-based techniques will monitor precursory ash and gas emissions, thermal and topographic changes at active volcanoes over many months to improve understanding of precursory processes that can warn of impending hazards.

-Remote sensing methods will be used to facilitate the first systematic groundwater investigations of this kind in these countries.

-Long-term field assignments facilitate research with longer-than-usual timeframes,  allowing continuity and consistency from local perspectives during potentially rapidly  changing natural hazard crises, and establishing a strong social component to the science/engineering studies.

-Development of stable monitoring programs for gas emissions, water resource development, topographic and land cover changes - all with strong field validation components.

Outreach and broader impacts include:

-This project builds upon the individual projects, many funded by NSF, to build a stable collaboration and sharing of resources, personnel and experience among MTU, the USGS, and agencies in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Ecuador. 

-The project reinforces a strong graduate level program in volcanological hazards, with  the ability to generate many high quality Ph.D. candidates from this program.  Merging academic coursework and field research gives the participants a  unique combination of technical training and practical, international experience in real hazard  mitigation and resource development.

-Develop improved outreach methods for hazard mitigation and resource protection.  Extended field activities will allow for closer collaboration with affected communities.       

Michigan Technological University

Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building

1400 Townsend Dr., Houghton, MI  44931-1295  

phone: 906.487.2531  fax: 906.487.3371



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