NCEO NC ODA Extension 2020-2021

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: National Centre for Earth Observation


The NCEO NC-ODA programme is focussed on a series of generic science issues that are particularly relevant to development challenges: characterisation and forecasting of land surface state including vegetation change and soil moisture; the evolution of forest carbon and characterisation of carbon fluxes arising from deforestation and degradation; the dynamic nature of fires, their emissions into the atmosphere and the development of large-scale air pollution; the development of a cadre of researchers and applications specialists trained in state-of-the-art Earth Observation (EO).
We will address specific problems faced by DAC countries: the vulnerability of crop yields in semi-arid regions in Africa to drought, the challenge of protecting and enhancing forest resources from Kenya across sub-Saharan Africa, to mitigate climate change, the forecast skill necessary to capture hazardous air quality in South-East Asia stemming from open biomass burning, and the current lack of capacity of many African nations to make effective use of satellite EO data.
The programme is structured into four WPs. Relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals are: 2 (Zero hunger), 3 (Good health and well-being), 13 (Climate action), 15 (Life on Land), and 17 (Partnership for the goals).
WP 1 will improve crop yield modelling in Ghana and then across sub-Saharan Africa through data assimilation of multiple EO data streams, for example effective leaf area index and soil moisture. The research will yield new knowledge on the value of accurate EO data parameters in a data-model system, to better characterise crop change and increase predictive skill, to examine upscaling from landscape to country scale, and improve soil moisture forecast skill [SGDs 2, 15]. It will support an improved TAMSAT-ALERT system.
WP 2 will extend a baseline of carbon emissions from deforestation across sub-Saharan Africa, identify different types of deforestation and degradation from synthetic aperture radar, optical and laser ranging (LiDAR) data, and establish areas that are suitable for afforestation. It will test new datasets in Kenya to ensure validity and to continue to support the Vision 2030 of the Kenyan Government that aims to increase forest cover from 6 to 10 per cent by 2030. The work will establish forest reference emission levels and above-ground carbon stocks in a regional context. This research is key to understanding carbon cycling estimates in a REDD+ policy context. [SGDs 13, 15].
WP 3 will develop and demonstrate new data sources that can improve forecast accuracy for large-scale air pollution during fire events. Currently, forecast models use estimates of fires that fail to capture the magnitude and variability of dynamic large forest and peatland fires and fires due to agricultural residue burning. The research will improve pollutant emissions estimates from fires, EO-based retrievals of smoke plume aerosols and auto-identification of biomass-burning plumes. We will work with stakeholders in the ASEAN countries to co-develop and demonstrate new systems, characterise improvements and train staff in the interpretation of complex EO data. We will implement the fire component of WP3 in sub-Saharan Africa improving carbon estimates and coupling drought with fire knowledge. [SDGs 3, 13].
WP 4 will build capacity through international EO-related initiatives, including the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) AfriGEOSS initiative and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Working Group on Capacity Building & Data Democracy, to improve access to and use of contemporary EO datasets in African nations and other DAC nations. Work will include scoping of UK-related EO projects and experts related to AfriGEO identified needs, extension of the training of WP1-3 to wider DAC countries and to strategic capacity building, co-ordinated work with the relevant GEO initiatives of GFOI and GEOGLAM, and support of access to EO data for DAC countries.

Planned Impact

This programme directly and primarily benefits stakeholder organisation and partners in DAC countries. Impact will be achievable for our current stakeholders in Ghana, Kenya and Indonesia and wider regional partnerships. Impactful actions will also occur via the wider international community participating in AfriGEO, WGCapD, GFOI, GEOGLAM, AfriGAM and GWIS.
There are three main groups of beneficiaries:
1. Public agencies, national and regional governments
2. Non-governmental organisations, international aid organisations, the UN community and its programmes
3. The general public, local communities in Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and South-East Asia
These groups will benefit from making progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2 (Zero hunger), 3 (Good health and well-being), 13 (Climate action), 15 (Life on Land), and 17 (Partnership for the goals).
More accurate crop yield models using EO data assimilation will provide better information to stakeholders in semi-arid Africa and other DAC countries (WP1). This is expected to lead to positive development impact by reducing hunger because of crop failure during drought. Government agencies and aid organisations will be able to respond more effectively, based on more accurate crop yield forecasts. The dryland savannah zone of the Northern region of Ghana occupies 40 per cent of the country and farming there is under pressure from rapid population growth and vulnerable to rainfall fluctuations. In Ethiopia the agricultural sector is a cornerstone of the economy, employs 80-85 per cent of people and contributes about 40 per cent of total GDP. During the drought in 2016, 18 million people there depended on food aid. Even a small reduction in the uncertainty in crop yield predictions could have a substantial impact.
The research on deforestation and afforestation potential in Kenya will directly benefit the Kenya Forest Service, Forestry Society of Kenya and the stakeholders in the national REDD+ forum by providing baseline deforestation rates, aboveground biomass data that can be used to estimate greenhouse gas emissions and their reduction under forest protection policies, as well as identifying areas with potential for afforestation based on model simulations. Fire effects will also be included for the first time. The research will support Kenya's afforestation target written into its constitutional 'Vision 2030', and its goal to achieve REDD+ Readiness. Kenya is set to benefit from financial incentives under REDD+, such as from the UK's £5.8 billion International Climate Fund. Positive action in Kenya will motivate other African countries to continue to build their own efforts.
More accurate information on fire activity and the related atmospheric pollutants in South-East Asia will potentially benefit the 620 million people living in the region's DAC-List countries, through support to national monitoring efforts and to policies such as the Transboundary Agreement on Haze Pollution that aims to limit burning and its atmospheric and human health impacts, particularly in drought years with catastrophic fire outbreaks. Better understanding of the air pollution impacts of fires for policy makers will lead to improved efforts to reduce fires and lower public exposure to air pollution, thus lowering morbidity and mortality rates from respiratory and coronary diseases. NCEO will build on the South East Asia experience to accelerate access to fire-related health information for African countries.
The support for AfriGEO will benefit the participating African nations and international organisations to access contemporary EO datasets more effectively. The UK GEO/CEOS office will also benefit the UK by making EO capability more visible on the international stage and promoting EO know-how and funded. WP4 will enable many African nations to access EO data from satellites more effectively, bringing associated health and commercial benefits.


10 25 50
Description Our Forest Alerts from Sentinel-2 are being used as an early-warning system by the Kenya Forest Service in Kwale County since 2019 and in Kilifi County since 2021. The Forest Information Centre by the Kenya Forest Service in Nairobi processes the Forest Alerts on its own servers and a specialist receives the Forest Alerts via email. After a visual sift of the new alerts, those alerts that need investigating in the field are sent to forest rangers in the field stations via WhatsApp. Only the coordinates are sent in order to minimise mobile phone data charges to the rangers, who do often not have access to computers or Wifi. The rangers use the Maps.Me app to navigate to the coordinates of the Forest Alerts and take action if they discover illegal activity in the protected forest area. The results of the field investigation are reported back to the Forest Information Centre with details of the type of incident, photos and actions taken, as well as the name and rank of the investigating officer / ranger. Rangers are accompanied by volunteers from the local community, called Community Scouts. The use of the Forest Alerts has led to a reduction of illegal poaching and tree cutting because the perpetrators know that they are being watched from space. Forest rangers have said that the system makes their work more effective through situational awareness
Exploitation Route The key forward direction is to understand better interactions between the carbon and water cycles.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description We have co-designed the Forest Alerts system with the REDD+ Round Table convened by the Ministry of Environment in Kenya, which brings together NGOs, the National Alliance of Community Forest Associations (NACOFA), staff from different branches of the Kenya Forest Service, and experts from several universities in Nairobi. The Kenya Forest Service has said Forest Alert has made its forest rangers more accountable, helped it to manage the forest rangers more effectively, and helped reduce deforestation almost at the time that it happens. Forest rangers use it to navigate to areas of suspected illegal tree cutting in protected forest areas. A Kenya Forest Service member of staff wrote, "the results have been very impressive with over 10 reports being received on a daily basis. With the feedback received from Kwale County and the input from the ENCOM section, a deliberate effort has been made to improve and enhance the tool further for an improved forest surveillance, comprehensive reporting and trend analysis in forest incidences and monitoring. The result has been an improved tool (survey123) that captures and digitizes the manual tool that is currently in use by ENCOM." [Note: ENCOM is the Enforcement and Compliance branch of the Kenya Forest Service] The Kenya Forest Service detected 253 Forest Alerts in Kwale County to date (143 were illegal logging, 47 charcoal production, and one case of human trafficking), and 297 Forest Alerts in Kilifi County (239 illegal logging and 17 charcoal making). Supported by voluntary Community Scouts, ENCOM staff have successfully intervened in many cases and arrested poachers, human traffickers and illegal loggers in the protected forest areas. Because of the success of the system, the Kenya Forest Service developed capacity to generate the Forest Alerts for additional areas covering eight Counties: Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kericho, Baringo, Bungoma, Kakamega, Nandi and Transzoia which falls within the North Rift Valley. Besides the enforcement aspects of Forest Alerts, the GIS database of detected events allows the collection of statistics of the causes of deforestation. This information is being used by the local forest rangers and the community scouts to engage with local communities to reduce the causes of deforestation, for example by providing incentives for planting trees for charcoal production. Forest Alerts is being scaled up to national use in Kenya over the next 6 months, funded by BEIS (ODA project IMPRESS under UK-PACT). Our soil moisture data, developed under the ODA award, are now being used in climatological forecasting applications in Africa, which in-turn are being used by non-academic organisations. Whilst rainfall monitoring plays a key role in the early warning of drought, it is ultimately soil moisture on timescales from weeks (for germination) to months (for crop yield) which impacts agriculture and food security. The TAMSAT-ALERT forecasting system, is a statistical and land-surface modelling framework that provides an assessment of agricultural risk based on monitoring of the growing season, the historical climatology and the meteorological forecast. Data assimilation techniques developed by NCEO are applied to calibrate the model, integrating TAMSAT rainfall data, with reanalysis and remotely sensed soil moisture from NASA SMAP data, greatly improving the representation of soil moisture conditions. The forecast system is applied at a range of timescales to support anticipatory action. At a seasonal time scale, TAMSAT-ALERT has been integrated into the START Network and Red Cross early action programmes to mitigate the effects of agricultural drought. At shorter time scales TAMSAT-ALERT directly supports >1M farmers via SMS-based advisories issued by One Acre Fund.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal

Description GOAT-SAT: Earth observation for weather-smart worm control
Amount £252,980 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/T01248X/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 01/2022
Title Forest aboveground biomass mapping tool 
Description The software is implemented in Google Earth Engine and produces forest aboveground biomass maps from radar and multispectral satellite data at local, regional or continental scale. It also quantifies the uncertainties in the estimates. A Python version has also been written. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact NCEO has produced annual forest biomass maps for the entire African continent for eight years. The maps have contributed to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and are being used by the Paris Agreement's Global Stocktake. 
Description Presentation to GEOGLAM Project Update Weminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We presented on progress on ground data collection and initial analysis for maize in northern Ghana. The presentation was attended by more than 20 people distributed globally who are involved in the GeoGLAM project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022