NASA’s BioSCape Project to assess Cape Floristic Region

21 Jul 2021 by Andrew Turner

NASA’s BioSCape Project to test remotely sensed data to assess Cape Floristic Region biodiversity

By Andrew Turner, CapeNature Restoration Ecologist.

The South Western Cape hosts a famously rich biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine, which is largely derived from the phenomenal levels of biodiversity change over very small distances (technically, represented by beta, gamma and zeta diversity as one expands spatial scope). This has attracted the attention of NASA, the United States of America’s Space Agency. NASA will be flying two specially equipped jets in the Western Cape in 2023 as part of the BioSCape project involving multiple research and conservation collaborators. This is quite unlike what most of us think of as a NASA mission, as their focus will not be on outer space, but on the earth’s surface and on the living elements in particular. This is part of an increasing recognition that biodiversity is a key ingredient for environmental resilience, function and sustainability at all scales from local to global.

This cutting edge research will be tackled using hyperspectral sensors which, unlike most current satellite-derived data, can scan a big section of the electro-magnetic spectrum from 380 nano metres to 12 micro metres. If there are any wavelengths that are informative in characterising vegetation patterns these sensors should be able to pick them up. They will also be making use of light detection and ranging (LIDAR), which is similar in concept to RADAR, but uses laser light to establish the heights of the earth’s surface features so that accurate 3D surfaces can be mapped. The main objective of this study is to see if this new method of Earth Observation can be related to ground-based biodiversity patterns. If this turns out to be the case, it will improve our ability to survey wide swathes of the planet and assess and predict biodiversity health.

CapeNature’s Protected Areas represent both the diversity of the Cape Floristic Region and surrounds, its change across landscapes, the numerous key natural ecological processes such as fire, and the not so natural impacts of invasive alien species. This representation provides an ideal opportunity to test the theory of tracking biodiversity from remotely-sensed data. On the ground we can quantify biodiversity in rigorous and detailed ways that we are currently seldom able to achieve. Knowing what is happening with biodiversity can inform us about what is happening with ecosystem processes. The focus for the Western Cape will be water availability, fire and invasive alien species. For example, it will be very interesting to see how well the new imagery can represent invasive alien species and groundwater dependent ecosystems. One of the proposals even includes collecting automated sound data so that we can assess a very different way of quantifying biodiversity that may be hard to see, but easy to hear. All of these systems are dynamic and there are constant changes in land-use and climate change. Getting this detailed window on biodiversity patterns is going to be invaluable to measure and evaluate environmental change in future when this means of data may become more easily accessible via satellite.


Picture 1: One of the specially-equipped NASA aircraft. Credit: Johnson Space Centre.

Picture 2: A LIDAR image of vegetation displaying an example of the 3d point cloud imagery obtainbable with this technology. Credit: NASA.

Related News

7 Aug 2022
Enhance your experience at Cederberg Wilderness up the West Coast!

Our Winter promotion is soon coming to an end. Why not take advantage of the last few weeks and head out to the Cederberg Wilderness. Come and watch nature come alive from this World Heritage Site.

2 Aug 2022
Find Your Freedom in Nature With CapeNature’s 30% Senior Citizen Discount

If you are 60 years or older and have a valid South African ID, you’re in for a real treat with CapeNature’s Senior Citizen Discount perk. The all year 30% discount allows senior citizens accessible travel to all CapeNature reserves, which spans from the West Coast to the Winelands, Overberg, Garden Route and the Klein Karoo.

31 Jul 2022
Kammanassie Youth Reaching New Heights

World Ranger Day is celebrated annually on 31 July to highlight the work that rangers do. According to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora, World Ranger Day is a time to pause, reflect and show our gratitude for the dedication and sacrifice of some of nature’s most devoted custodians.

18 Jul 2022
Mouth Maintenance Management Plans

The objective of the Mouth Maintenance Management Plan is to manage the estuary mouth in order to maintain the healthy ecological conditions of the estuary.

6 Jul 2022
More Gems to Explore for Your #CapeNaturewinter Getaway!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been telling you about our 40% winter discount and some of the amazing nature reserves to spend your perfect winter holiday. Yet did you know that CapeNature has more than 20 different reserve destinations to visit?

5 Jul 2022
Discover the Best Outdoor Filming and Photography Destinations With CapeNature

Whether you are a film production agency or a freelancer in need of multifaceted and spectacular natural settings, or an aspiring film student looking for the perfect playground to shoot your nature documentary CapeNature has the ultimate host of nature reserves to satisfy all your nature-inspired filming needs.