Thermal infrared technologies for supporting environmental assessment and decision making in the Ganges Basin

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


This project will use state-of-the-art Sentinel-3A land measurements complemented by observations from in situ and airborne vehicles to map the heterogeneity of land surface properties across the Ganges Basin. Novel STFC datasets characterising heat stress, crop water stress and vegetation fire will be generated and used to identify changes in agricultural practises in the region. We will demonstrate how these prototype datasets will support in-country Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) focussed on livelihoods and wellbeing of farming community and their families.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implemented by the United Nations specify that poor and vulnerable communities must have; a) improved resilience to climate and economic shocks, b) implementation of resilient agricultural practises and c) eradicated water scarcity, by 2030. Furthermore the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems must be ensured by 2020. These goals epitomise that interventions are necessary to support life on land and reduce poverty and are of particular relevance to rural communities living in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP). Specific issues that these communities need protecting against are; a) an increased rate of urbanisation, b) groundwater decline, c) soil erosion through incorrect agriculture practises, d) illegal crop residue burning and e) rising temperatures due to the changing climate.

In response to anthropogenic perturbations to the Ganges Basin surface, Indian academics have joined emerging international efforts to determine how geological, chemical and atmospheric interactions impact the ecosystem using an interdisciplinary monitoring approach through critical zone observatories (CZO). Challenges in monitoring the Ganges basin include a lack of high temporal and spatial resolution data at sub-regional, district -level scales as well as large uncertainties in land surface measurements over the heterogeneous landscape.

The use of sensors on-board space- and airborne- platforms to monitor critical zones can provide independent sources of information about the ecosystem and overcome challenges in monitoring processes from the ground. This project builds on work done in a previous STFC 21st Century Global Challenges Exploration collaboration between the University of Leicester and the Indian Institute for Technology Kanpur (IITK). In this project we will employ land measurements from the STFC calibrated space technology, in the form of the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR) on Sentinel-3A which will be used to map the heterogeneity of the Ganges CZO and surrounding regions. Complementary high resolution sensors on airborne platforms will provide the first in-depth mapping of the CZO from which an understanding of the land-use processes contributing to ground water depletion and crop stress will be identified. Implementation of a high resolution radiometer in the Ganges basin will provide the first opportunity to validate and assess SLSTR measurements in the IGP. Together with other space-borne data, SLSTR will be used to generate prototype information on heat-, crop and fire-stress of which the efficiency will be tested through implementation into land and hydrological models and via community feedback through NGOs.

New datasets and knowledge created as part of this project will provide the evidence base for intervention strategies that will feed into targeted policy briefs and recommendations required to protect critical zones across the IGP.

Planned Impact

The project objectives and deliverables are directly relevant to the STFC GCRF strategy, in particular to access untapped potential of STFC space science capabilities to address challenges in monitoring the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) landscape and establish new partnerships with sectors best equipped to be promote in-country changes.

Non-government organisations (NGOs), charities, policy-makers, community leaders and the wider IGP public are among the long-term beneficiaries of this research. Unplanned urban growth, overexploitation of groundwater and crop residue burning are some of the factors burdening landscape and availability of resources for agricultural growth. The intertwined science and impact objectives of this project will explicitly enable the Ganges basin terrain, land cover, land-use and land temperature changes to be monitored; all findings will be disseminated directly to the communities most impacted by these changes through partnering NGOs.
This study will also provide career development for PhD students and PDRAs by involving them in the planning and implementation of a field campaign, working with novel in situ and space-borne datasets and leadership skills by running workshop sessions. As part of previous and existing projects between UK and Indian partners (University of Leicester and IITK), the UK team, including Kings College London, already have experience in running space science training workshops in India and other LMIC countries. Such training activities will continue within this project.
Specifically, sectors that are likely to benefit from this research include;
1) NGOs and Think-Tanks.
NGOs that address social and environmental issues will benefit from exposure to new resources, innovative datasets and a new community of space/EO experts. These resources can amplify existing methods of policy-orientated research. Many Indian NGOs are working to address climate-related food and resource security issues. Such issues are likely to affect the UK in the future and therefore NGOs based in the UK may also benefit from dialogue and experiences from Indian NGOs.
2) National and state-level government based decision-makers
The Indian government is tightly linked to the agriculture sector and makes strong investments both technologically and monetarily, into suitable provisions for farming communities. Decisions made by government bodies directly impact farming communities (and furthermore the public) and providing a strong body of evidence and independent recommendations through the work of NGOs and Think-Tanks is critical. With the Indian government investing into future EO space sensors, this study will demonstrate the potential and limitations of different EO datasets in a key region of interest.
3) Local communities in India
With half of India's population involved in the agriculture sector and more than 60 % land -use dedicated to agriculture, the food security and preservation of resources is vital for employment, nourishment, health and well-being of Indian people. Real-life problems that have been reported to affect these communities include depletion of ground-water, degradation in the quality of soil due to pesticides and smog in Delhi due to agricultural burning emissions from Northern India. This study will explore how to marry space science output with direct policy and action input allowing NGOs to be better equipped to create societal impacts.

Other beneficiaries include:
Large scale Indian commercial space companies (i.e. Antrix Corporation Limited (ACL)), the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC), Indian and UK agriculture small and medium- sized enterprises, social enterprise initiatives, UK-based NGOs and the Department for International Development (DFID).
Description Policy brief and recommendations for Agriculture Department - State Government of Uttar Pradesh
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Description Supplement - Thermal infrared technologies for supporting environmental assessment and decision making in the Ganges Basin
Amount £31,124 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/R00286X/1 
Organisation University of Leicester 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 12/2018
Description Towards an integrated approach for assessing the impact of climatic stresses on agriculture and the exchange of greenhouse gas on the Indo-Gangetic Plain
Amount £178,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2020
Description Media Interview with BBC Radio Leicester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Activity:Following a University of Leicester press release on May 30th 2018, I was interviewed by BBC Radio Leicester on 3rd June 2018. The host was interested in the challenges faced by communities living near the Ganges basin, the space technologies that are going to be used in the project and how they will be of benefit to the community and environment. The host has invited me back to speak about the research findings later in the year.

Outcomes: The interview was aired on a show that is popular with Indian diaspora within Leicestershire with a 67% reach within the community. It is expected that the interview will have raised awareness about environmental challenges faced by Indian farming communities as well as the demonstrating how space technologies can directly benefit society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Stakeholder Engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The final stakeholder engagement workshop related to our project outcomes took place at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT Kanpur). The event was attended by the State Government of Uttar Pradesh, the Indian Space Research Organisation - Government of India and local media station.
The purpose of the event was to showcase some of the tools developed to interact and inform farmers of agricultural information and to demonstrate to decision makers what is possible with satellite measurements and ground-based observations.
The outcomes of this workshop have been three-fold: 1) the state government have conducted follow up meetings with IIT Kanpur to explore project results can be implemented into their agriculture decision making, 2) ISRO are interested in new measurements collected with thermal infrared radiometers deployed as part of this project and are considering funding the site on a longer term arrangement and 3) TV interview and newspaper have reached state level news outlets highlight our project findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Stakeholder Perspectives on Environmental Assessment and Agricultural Decision making in the Ganges Basin 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A stakeholder workshop was held in Delhi,hosted by project partner The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), an NGO based in Delhi that tests policy and informs a variety of government ministries. The workshop was attended by a variety of organisations such as the Ministry of Water Resources - Government of India, agriculture and water NGOs and academic project partners. Professor Vinod Gaur, from CSIR Bangalore and former Government of India participated in the workshop as an expert advisor to the project.

An overview of the STFC GCRF project was provided to the audience with a focus on demonstrating how high-resolution space- and air-borne sensors, a network of ground sensors and regional modelling are being used to monitor the influences of the climate and crop water stress on agriculture in the Ganges Basin. We presented new results (novel vegetation datasets ) and our findings far from our farmer community engagement in the Pandu River basin report in Uttar Pradesh.

With a focus identifying how such measurements could be used to monitor human-induced and climatic disturbances on agriculture, this workshop aimed to seeks stakeholder perspectives on how to drive strategies to optimise agriculture practises regionally and across the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The workshop offered a platform for end-users to highlight the kind of datasets, technologies, methods and evidence required to inform policy-makers and develop pathways to sustainable agriculture in India.

The workshop was divided into technical and break-out sessions during which the audience discussed and provided their recommendations and feedback on how results specific to this project could be used to address global challenges and UN sustainable development goals to benefit the rural communities within the region itself. Professor Gaur will be providing his official expert recommendations to the project team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Training workshop on "Monitoring Agriculture and Climate from Space" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A one day international workshop on "Monitoring Agriculture and Climate from Space" was jointly organised by Department of Environment Studies, Panjab University and School of Public Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh with University of Leicester on Friday, 21st September 2018 at CIL/SAIF, Seminar Hall, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
The training workshop was designed to provide researchers and Ph.D. scholars an overview of how changes in agriculture and the landscape can be quantified with thermal infrared remote sensing instrumentation and how to make use of operational climate services and work with EO datasets. The workshop comprised of lectures and supporting practical sessions in which each participant was asked to analyse and interpret long-term EO datasets using the Google Earth Engine platform. In total, 25 participants were selected to attend the workshop from 8 academic and research institutions from North India.

Key stakeholders were invited to attend and speak at the training workshop enabling face-to-face discussions between UK and Indian Government departments about the role that space technologies could have in supporting agricultural decision making. Sh. Dharminder Sharma, IFS Chief Conservator, Department of Soil and Water Conservation, Government of Punjab, was the guest of honour and spoke of how remote sensing and Geographical Information System techniques play an important role in effectively manage the natural resources and land use. He highlighted the need to focus on precision farming using drone technology in agricultural sector to preserve soil and water resources. Sh. Surinder Paul, Director of the Indian Meteorological Department in Chandigarh, Government of India chaired the valedictory session and took part in subsequent discussions.

During this training workshop, Dr Harjinder Sembhi and Dr Darren Ghent gave interviews with the media and Panjab University press office that were invited to observe the workshop. Interviews were given in English and local language (Punjabi) to raise awareness of some of the challenges impacting agriculture in the region. Articles about the workshop appeared in press from Saturday 22nd September 2018 in several newspapers which included Punjabi language (Ajit), Hindi language (Amar Ujala and Bhaskar) and English language newspapers (The Tribune - Chandigarh, The Indian Express).
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Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018