RAPP Newsletter 7 – November 2017

 Dear RAPP colleagues,

Here it is, and just before Christmas: Newsletter #7 of GEOGLAM RAPP ! Since last time, we have been working on the domestic part of the RAPP Map (Australia, with additional features), building more partnerships within the community, and embracing the opportunity of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to raise the awareness of land degradation (indicator 15.3.1), and improving land conditions’ monitoring with Earth observation data (satellite and in situ).

Community-of-Practice and workshops     

RAPP Pilot sites 

Namibia: working with communal farmers in Namibia’s eastern areas

As part of a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) funded project, two private companies (Agra Provision and Agri-Ecological Services) are implementing an early warning and monitoring system with farmers in two communal areas in Namibia.

The main objective is to support farmers with information about the status of their rangelands to make critical decisions timely (pro-actively) during years of forage scarcity. The recent drought of 2016 resulted in severe livestock losses in both areas, due to failure to adjust livestock numbers in time or to find alternative grazing or fodder. A survey among farmers indicated that overstocking and overgrazing are perceived as major issues in both areas.

The project aims to calibrate remotely sensed monitoring products (e.g. herbaceous biomass and bare ground fraction), set up an information dissemination system and facilitate a process to find solutions for rangelands’ related problems in these areas. The UNDP project complements a national-scale, EU funded rangeland monitoring initiative to make use of Earth observation to better manage Namibia’s rangelands. The RAPP map products will be a valuable asset to the current system.

One of the remote sensed products currently being validated is the fractional cover products available on the RAPP Map. The data obtained from Dr Juan Guerschman  (CSIRO), and the ‘September 2017 data’ were visually validated in the eastern communal area.  Because September is at the end of the dry season, the time of lowest vegetation cover and apparently most contrasting in terms of rangeland management.

A bare-ground fraction map for September 2017 of the Rietfontein block in eastern Namibia. The arrows point to the locations where the photos were recently taken (blue dots), indicating a good correspondence between the fractional cover data and actual cover. The large bare area to the left of the bottom photo is severely degraded. A bare-ground fraction map for September 2017 of the Rietfontein block in eastern Namibia. The arrows point to the locations where the photos were recently taken (blue dots), indicating a good correspondence between the fractional cover data and actual cover. The large bare area to the left of the bottom photo is severely degraded.

The visual inspection of several farms while live tracking the data on a laptop (= in situ validation) showed a remarkable correspondence with actual ground cover in the study area. In fact, the local team was able to predict accurately where livestock concentrations were the densest, e.g. piosphere effects close to water points. The next step will be to quantitatively validate the fractional cover data. The Namibian partners will continue working with Dr Guerschman and other RAPP community members to further develop and test these methodologies.

Meeting with communal farmers in the Otjimbingwe area in central Namibia to discuss the implementation of an early warning and monitoring system to support timely decision making with regards to forage availability for their livestock. The recent drought caused severe stock losses in this area.

Next RAPP workshop: Kenya?

RAPP co-leads are currently discussing with ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) the possibility of organising our next strategic workshop in Kenya next year (around May/June), with a special interest in linking the initiative to the UN SDGs (Land degradation, Food security, etc) and national/regional Data Cube projects. Some key international stakeholders (FAO, IUCN, UNEP) based in Nairobi have already expressed their interest to join the event.

We will let you know once we can provide more information: stay tuned!

RAPP Products

Fractional cover product moved to MODIS Collection 6

The MODIS Fractional Cover product has been re-calibrated using MODIS collection 6 data and enhanced field observations database (in Australia). The new version (called v3.1) has improved its accuracy in the three fractions reported (Photosynthetic Vegetation (PV), Non-Photosynthetic Vegetation (NPV) and Bare Soil (BS)). The root mean square error for the PV, NPV and BS fractions changed from 12.9%, 18.1% and 16.6% in v3.0 to 11.3%, 16.1% and 14.7% in the current v3.1.


The new dataset is being processed and will be available in the GEOGLAM RAPP Map in the coming weeks. This will include the global Fractional Cover product (the three fractions PV, NPV and BS), the Total Vegetation Cover (the sum of PV and NPV) and the anomalies of the total vegetation cover shown as the simple difference between the cover in a month and the mean cover for that month and as deciles (ranking).

RAPP Map: updates and new features

The GEOGLAM RAPP Map is a tool providing an interactive way to visualise and interrogate global and regional data on rangeland and pasture condition, climate and livestock statistics. Still in development for some features, but you can already play, use and create land cover maps from there!

The layer in the map have been rearranged and named. Lots of work has been undertaken to make more layers available, for Australia first: a new tab now shows specific layers for the country, which include time series data for Landsat and Sentinel 2 vegetation cover. The plan is soon to build on the system, add more products/datasets to complement the existing layers: please contact Dr Juan Guerschman to add your national datasets.


Another new addition to the Map is the function of splitting the screen and show two different layers with a splitter control. The print screen below has the Landsat Fractional Cover for March 2015 on the left and March 2017 on the right. The splitter control allows an easy comparison between the two dates. Use this link to visualise yourself!

RAPP Map new feature: splitter control

The system behind the RAPP Map is TerriaJS. You can also read about these new features here.

Any comments or feedback are welcome, please contact Dr Juan Guerschman! (or geoglam.rapp@csiro.au)

Vegetation Cover Anomaly 

The monthly vegetation cover anomaly product can also be viewed on its own, and downloaded here.

The latest map (October 2017) shows continued negative anomalies in parts of east Africa (Kenya, Somalia), western Namibia and parts of the Sahel. Better than average vegetation cover in most of Botswana and eastern Namibia. Also favorable conditions in northern Australia, central Argentina, most of North America and central Asia.

Global Vegetation Cover anomaly – October 2017 (MODIS since 2001)

Focus on…

Data Cube projects to be implemented in Africa

South Africa, Kenya and other countries are interested

SANSA (South African National Space Agency) has shown great interest into benefiting from the Open Data Cube, and had already productive discussions with the SEO (System of Engineering Office) of CEOS (Committee on Earth Observation Satellites) to make this happen. SANSA would like to use Landsat, Sentinel 1/2/3, CBERS and SPOT to run applications (urbanization, human settlements, rangelands, forestry, water, land use change). The Data Cube would be installed on their local SANSA computing system, and will be supported by a software team. CEOS will develop a sample cube of Landsat and Sentinel-1 by using SANSA’s datasets, and then conduct a future telecon to demonstrate the user interface and other features for SANSA to use it.

Pasture in Drakensberg

Pasture from Drakensberg (South Africa) site

Other countries in Africa have expressed their interested in using the Data Cube: the CEOS SEO is discussing other opportunities, also with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development (GPSDD), to provide assistance to the countries with a regional scale tool (“central Africa Data Cube”) to help them address the “Big Data” issues and challenges (storage and processing) they are facing already with satellite datasets.

Stay tuned, more exciting news to come soon!

Beyond RAPP

RAPP and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) context, GEOGLAM RAPP is well positioned to focus on Goal 15 (“Life on land”), and in particular related to land degradation, by offering complementary methods to measure the indicator 15.3.1 “Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area” (see below the work undertaken by CSIRO for a UN custodian agency).

Late October, the CEOS Plenary was held in Rapid City (USA), immediately followed by the GEO Week (Group on Earth Observations) in Washington DC. One of the side-meetings in DC was coordinated by the GEO initiative focusing on “Earth Observations in support of Sustainable Development Goals” (EO4SDG). The meeting was organised around 4 panels, each focusing on one goal, including SDG 15.

This panel was organised and led by the CEOS team on SDGs* (Marc Paganini, ESA) and it focused on forest and land degradation monitoring. Key speakers from the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), countries, space agencies (CSIRO, European Space Agency-ESA), other UN custodian agencies (FAO) presented on case studies and national approaches.


* CSIRO, ESA and USGS (United States Geological Survey) are co-leading the CEOS team on SDGs. It aims to support GEO activities, and coordinate information about SDG activities undertaken by space agencies. It provides critical support and inputs to the EO4SDG initiative, and contributes to communication/training material (see their website, including the primer on Goal 2) to promote the use of EO data in support of the 2030 Agenda.

If your group is also involved in projects supporting the 2030 Agenda,  we would love to hear from you! We believe that RAPP can actively contribute to the SDG process, in particular by providing complementary EO-based methods and data to help monitoring land degradation (Goal 15), and help reducing hunger by improving food security (Goal 2). We also welcome national case studies promoting the use of satellite data by official statistics to measure and/or achieve SDG indicators/targets: again, please be in contact with us!

UNCCD Conference of Parties 13  

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) organised their Conference of the Parties (COP 13) in Ordos (Inner Mongolia, China), early September. Dr Neil Sims (CSIRO) was invited and attended to provide scientific support and present on recommended methods for countries reporting on a specific indicator 15.3.1 – referring to the proportion of degraded land over total land area – of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).


The Good Practice Guidance documents produced by CSIRO describe how countries can use remote sensing methods to measure and report on land degradation in terms of changes in land cover type, changes in plant productivity in space and time, and changes in soil organic carbon. This type of work in the area, which is closely aligned with the Land Degradation Neutrality framework – is significant for the UN. It marks a shift from the Convention which was focusing more narrowly on desertification, particularly in Africa, to looking more broadly at management of degraded land across the globe.

Dr Neil Sims, who joined the Australian delegation (with Dr Alex Held and Flora Kerblat from CSIRO, Dr Stuart Minchin from Geoscience Australia, and others) at the GEO Week was one of the speakers at the “EO4SDG” side-event on Earth Observations and Sustainable development Goals: he presented the work which initiated productive discussions with other partners, enhancing the need to focus more on land degradation within GEO.

Behind the scenes

A bit of field work (South East Queensland, Australia) to assess other grasslands

The Carbon Capture and Storage Company (CSTSCo) is conducting a comprehensive environmental baseline monitoring program before a COstorage experiment commences on site. The purpose  is to assess and deliver the Surat Basin Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Project on behalf of Government and Industry funders.CSIRO is involved in pasture monitoring using Earth Observation tools.

Yun Chen, Juan Guerschman (CSIRO) and Nick Hudson (CTSCo) visiting the Glenhaven station in SE Queensland (Australia).

The site is located about 20km southwest of the town of Wandoan and is dominated by Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) grasslands used for cattle grazing. A combination of Earth observation techniques will be used combining time-series data of vegetation cover from Landsat and Sentinel 2 plus an acquisition of a hyperspectral image.

Grass-fed animals impact on climate change? 

An international research collaboration* has shed light on the impact that grass-fed animals have on climate change. The new study adds clarity to the debate around livestock farming and meat and dairy consumption and provides an authoritative and evidence-based answer to the question: “Is grass-fed beef good or bad for the climate?”. It is aimed at policy makers, the food industry, civil society and all those concerned with the future of land use, climate change, and the role of livestock in a sustainable food future.

The report “Grazed and Confused? Ruminating on cattle, grazing systems, methane, nitrous oxide, the soil carbon sequestration question – and what it all means for greenhouse gas emissions” finds that better management of grass-fed livestock, while worthwhile in and of itself, does not offer a significant solution to climate change as only under very specific conditions can they help sequester carbon. This sequestering of carbon is even then time-limited, reversible and in aggregate small and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate. The study concludes that although there can be other benefits to grazing livestock – solving climate change isn’t one of them.

*Written by Dr Tara Garnett (the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford), Cécile Godde (CSIRO, involved in RAPP) and a team of international experts. See here for more information.


We continue regular communications with our key partners and communicate through the website which is regularly updated with news, events and information on RAPP pilot sites. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@geoglamRAPP) : news and products (eg. monthly Vegetation Cover anomalies) are also published there!

We made some edits to our brochure (mostly to reflect our new collaboration with SANSA), and we will work on a revised version early next year:

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you wish to get the e-document to print and distribute it at conferences or to your work colleagues!

Next key events for RAPP in 2017

  • H2020 Food Security for Africa Project (kick-off meeting) in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), 20-24 November 2017. 

This meeting is being organized alongside the AfricaGIS Conference, at Addis Ababa. Dr Clement Adjorlolo is currently attending the event and will speak about the RAPP initiative.

  • 3rd International Conference on Global Food Security, Cape Town (South Africa), 3-6 December 2017:

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is organising a Symposium at the 3rd International Conference on Global Food Security, about “Drought risk management and Index-insurance in drylands: bridging scientific research and implementation to bring food security impacts at scale”. Keynote Speakers include Michael Carter (UC Davis), Felix Rembold (JRC, Ispra), Anton Vrieling (University of Twente), Andrew Mude (ILRI). The Symposium will highlight current advances in remote sensing/financial approaches for drought risk management in drylands with a specific focus on index-insurance and with the goal to unravel the main elements that characterize successful and scalable programs from a multidisciplinary perspective.

  • AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans (USA), 11-15 Dec 2017

GEOGLAM will be represented at the AGU (American Geophysical Union) meeting and will coordinate a session on “Emerging Earth Observation Technologies and Techniques in Global Agricultural Monitoring: GEOGLAM and Other Activities” (Thursday 14th). The day after, Joseph Antony (from the Australian National University) will give a presentation about the RAPP Map (“B51C-1822: Geospatial Data as a Service: The GEOGLAM Rangelands and Pasture Productivity Map Experience” ).

If you are aware or presenting at other key conferences or events about rangelands and Earth observation, please let us know so we can share with everyone.

With thanks to all the contributors for this edition #7, RAPP team would like to wish you all a great festive season, and look forward to telling you more about rangelands’ monitoring in 2018 !