Observation Systems Laboratory Project: An Innovation in International Biodiversity Research

Dr Arturo Sanchez of the University of Alberta is leading developments in the area of tropical dry forest management and environmental preservation in response to the impacts of free trade and globalization in Latin America. Tropical dry forests account for over 42 percent of the world’s tropical forest growth and they are an intrinsic part of services provided by nature to all humans. They play a critical role in global warming and act as carbon sinks to promote globally clean air. Tropical dry forests are unique in the ability to support rapid species growth and recuperation.

Sanchez is involved in a collaborative research project called the Earth Observation Systems Laboratory (EOSL), aimed at strategically mapping out issues of land use and land cover change, developing geologic remote sensing applications and developing conservation nets and customized environmental preservation strategies through local, national and international partnerships.

Time Lapse image of Costa Rican rain forest.
Green indicates deforested areas.

Currently Sanchez is developing tools and techniques to detect and document tropical dry forests.  He is working in collaboration with the Costa Rican National Forest Fund to curb deforestation and promote sustainable developments in the country.  With the support of the University of Alberta MACI server, Sanchez has researched how the current Costa Rican National Biodiversity inventory (ca. two million records of tropical species) can be integrated through remote sensing platforms and geographic information systems to better understand the impact of deforestation on tropical biodiversity.

The impact of these research developments, tools and techniques is already making its mark. Not only has the research provided the infrastructure and strategies for the sustainable development of national forest environments in Costa Rica but the strategies are now moving beyond the Costa Rican borders. The Panamanian government has approached Dr Sanchez to lead it in documenting and developing national forestry preservation strategies in the country. Sanchez is also working closely with U.S. institutions, such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. NASA’s Mesoamerican Biological Corridor project, building towards development of regional land cover monitoring prototypes. The intention is, through education, training and documentation of local species, to achieve a long-term sustainable environment.

The computer size and capacity needed to host this biodiversity database and myriad of GIS mapping images is provided by MACI. In this way, MACI plays an important role in enabling partnerships on a local, national and international level. Dr Sanchez and his University of Alberta partners continue to pioneer the development of the Earth Observation Systems Laboratory to provide a solid foundation for research collaborations and developments, relying on MACI for advanced computing support.


Selected Publications

G.C Daily, P. Ehrlich, and G.A. Sánchez-Azofeifa. Countryside biogeography: Utilization of human-dominated habitats by the avifauna of southern Costa Rica, Ecological Applications, Accepted, 2000.

A.S.P. Pfaff, S. Kerr, F. Hughes, S. Liu, G.A. Sanchez-Azofeifa, D. Schimel, J. Tosi, V. Watson. The Kyoto protocol and payments for tropical forest: Estimating the supply of carbon sequestration offsets, and increasing the feasibility of a carbon market under the Clear Development Mechanism, Ecological Economics, Accepted, 2000.

G.A. Sanchez-Azofeifa. Land use and cover change in Costa Rica: a geographic perspective. In: Quantifying Sustainable Development, C.Hall, L. Leon, P. Van Laake (Eds.), Columbia University Press. 477-505.  In-Press, 2000.

T.N. Carlson, and G.A. Sanchez-Azofeifa. Satellite Remote Sensing of Land Use and Surface Microclimate Changes in and Around San Jose, Costa Rica, Remote Sensing of the Environment, 70:247-256, 1999.

G.A. Sanchez-Azofeifa, C. Quesada-Mateo, P. Gonzalez-Quesada, S. Dayanandan, & K. Bawa. Protected areas and conservation of biodiversity in the tropics, Conservation Biology, Vol. 13, No. 2, 407-411, 1999.

M. Boscolo, S. Kerr, A. Pfaff, G.A. Sanchez-Azofeifa. What role for tropical forest in climate change mitigation? The case of Costa Rica. Harvard Institute for International Development – Harvard University, Development discussion paper No. 675, Central America Project Series, 39 pp, 2000.