Today is World Wetlands Day
If we really want to protect the wetlands, we need to know what they are like, what kind of organisms live there, what are their exact characteristics and what environmental factors affect them. It is equally important to follow the changes of these important biotopes in time and space, to try to understand their dynamics and to be able to explain what we can do as a society in case of negative changes and how to prevent these changes. Scientists of the Slovak Academy of Sciences contribute to wetlands research thanks to the NaturaSat programme.
"It is a collaboration between the Slovak University of Technology and the European Space Agency (ESA). Under the aegis of the NaturaSat Wetlands project, we focus on the research of wetland biotopes using remote sensing. Our goal is excellent basic research on biotopes and biodiversity aimed at understanding and identifying its centres (the so-called hotspots), evolutionary connections and ecosystem services, monitoring, and, last but not least, the creation of an early warning system in the event of change and negative impacts on society and the environment as a whole," said Jozef Šibík of the Institute of Botany of Plant Science and Biodiversity Centre SAS.
Using deep learning, developed algorithms and expert knowledge, experts can test the possibility of detecting target objects or phenomena such as periodic water surface, vegetation or biodiversity. This systematic work is possible at different scales and levels, from local (using drones and orthophoto maps) to continental (using space agency satellite data) and from plant species populations to biome levels.
"One of the most important results in wetlands research is the development of methods for accurately targeting the boundaries of individual parts of a wetland, from the open water surface, through periodically waterlogged parts to the mosaic of vegetation of wetland biotopes (sedge and reed stands, floodplain forests). The NaturaSat programme also enables continuous monitoring of identified biotopes, which is a key factor in tracking changes in the wetlands, whether positive, for example, after successful revitalization, or negative, as a result of landscape drainage or drought caused by climate change," adds Jozef Šibík.
Despite the fact that we live in a relatively densely populated country, it is not within the power of researchers and nature conservation workers to obtain a continuous overview of all wetlands in Slovakia. However, each one of them is key in retaining water in the country and mitigating the negative impacts of drought on habitats and agricultural land. The NaturaSat programme can automatically detect the occurrence of wetlands even in places where there was no information about them until now, which SAS researchers have verified several times directly in the field.