Department of Geography and the Environment

Study Abroad in Botswana Summer 2020!

Mon, October 14, 2019
Study Abroad in Botswana Summer 2020!
A Economics and Philosophy student pilotes a drone

The Botswana Study Abroad program offered through the Department of Geography and the Environment provides something altogether different from other, more traditional study abroad experiences. The six-week program explores the natural environments of Botswana and how humans interact with and affect that environment. Led by Drs. Thoralf Meyer and Kelley Crews, who have extensive experience in environmental field work, the program is multi-discplinary and attracts majors ranging from Geography and Environmental Science to Economics and Computer Science. Students receive over 400 contact hours with the faculty, half of which is spent engaged in real-world, applied experiences in the savanna ecosystem. A typical day in the field camp begins with breakfast served at 07:00 AM, with students ready to deploy to the field sites at 08:00 AM each day, Monday – Saturday. Students work until noon applying a variety of environmental assessment methods, particularly surveys of local vegetation Following a hearty lunch, the afternoon is spent with a more traditional classroom setup of lectures and discussions. These lessons give the opportunity to understand the theory going into field work and experiments, albiet not at desks in a buildings, but in a “classroom” made from a large tent.

In addition to the traditional vegetation survey methods taught in this course, students are also exposed to the latest technologies for mapping vegetation dynamics and land-atmosphere interactions. In other words, students are able to explore the hidden properties of the environment that are invisble to the human eye, but that are vital to understanding environmental processes. These technologies include weather stations, which students assemble and program themselves, and drones, which were introduced just this summer. Drones have revolutionized remote sensing of the environment, allowing users to map areas with incredible detail unobtainable with traditional satellites. This summer, students were exposed to the theory, management, maintenance, and flight planing with drones that were capable of mapping thermal (heat) signals in addition to optical (visible) information.

By using these cameras that are programmed for a particular wavelength (in this case 8-14 µm), students were able to study the thermal inertia of various types of vegetation found within savanna environments. From these observations, it will be possible to establish relationships with weather station data to produce estimates of plant water consumption and photosynthetic activity. The technology also enables the development of 3-D models of the ground surface. These models are used to produce biomass estimates for comparison to measurements collected by the students on the ground, allowing students to also calculate the error involved with these measurements. These estimates can then be relayed to farmers or governmental officials and incorporated into land management.

Learn more by attending an info session, Tuesday 10/24, 4-5p in RLP 1.302D or Wednesday, 11/13, 5-6p in RLP 1.302D.

Students installing a weather station in the Kalahari Desert field site

Students installing a weather station in the Kalahari Desert field site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A thermal emissivity image from the drone between 8-14 µm

A thermal emissivity image from the drone between 8-14 µm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 3-D model rendered of vegetation obtained from the drone

A 3-D model rendered of vegetation obtained from the drone

 

 

 

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  • Department of Geography and the Environment

    The University of Texas at Austin
    305 E. 23rd Street, A3100
    RLP 3.306
    Austin, TX 78712
    512-471-5116