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Global Mangrove Watch – Supercomputing for keeping a watchful eye on Mangrove Forests

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Case study

Global Mangrove Watch – Supercomputing for keeping a watchful eye on Mangrove Forests

Mangroves – forests that sit where the ocean meets land – are key to supporting the natural world and effective climate action. Researchers at Aberystwyth University are part of the major project Global Mangrove Watch, initially founded by Prof Richard Lucas (Aberystwyth University) and Ake Rosenqvist (soloEO) and recently expanded with the Global Mangrove Alliance, which seeks to bring diverse stakeholders together towards a common goal of conserving and restoring mangrove ecosystems. 

Dr Pete Bunting is a Reader in Remote Sensing within the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences. He’s put his expertise in satellite earth observation at the service of Global Mangrove Watch (GMW) and, by using Supercomputing Wales resources to store and process huge datasets, has been able to ensure that GMW can offer the best possible maps of the planet’s mangroves [1]. 

“Mangroves are a vital part of the earth’s ecosystem on many levels,” Dr Bunting says. “For example, they grow where other vegetation cannot, protecting coastlines and human habitations from storm surges, and capturing and storing carbon, which helps mitigate rising atmospheric CO2 levels.” 

“The GMW online portal not only maps the extent of mangroves on an annual basis but also offers users – which might be governments, local authorities and environmental groups – near real-time alerts to changes in mangrove conditions. This allows users to become aware of changes at an earlier stage, so they can take action sooner.” 

Dr Bunting’s contribution to the GMW initiative has some high-profile users, with the data being the official mangrove data selected by the United Nations’ Environment Programme (UNEP) for reporting on Sustainable Development Goal, Indicator 6.6.1 [2], as well as in use on the UN Ocean+ Habitats platform [3], which aims to provide the world’s decision-makers and communities of practice with the best possible information and tools for ocean ecosystem management and conservation. It is also the mangrove layer used by the World Resources Institute on their Global Forest Watch and Resource Watch platforms [4, 5]. The GMW is being used to inform the European Space Agency’s Climate Change Initiative Biomass Project [6]. The health of ocean ecosystems has important social and economic as well as environmental effects and Dr Bunting’s work in this area has been submitted as an Impact Case Study in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. 

Participating in far-reaching and impactful global schemes puts Wales-based research on the map, and means that quality is key. The high-resolution satellite images that Dr Bunting and his team collect cover large geographic areas and are therefore very large data files. The SCW high-performance computing facility allows this large-scale data to be processed quickly and efficiently. “Mangroves are constantly evolving and policy and decision-makers need to be able to access high quality information quickly and easily. This is particularly valuable in the developing world, where many countries don’t have the resources to be able to develop their own mangrove maps and information systems,” says Dr Bunting. “We’ve processed and classified about half a million images on the supercomputer so far – doing this would take years and years on a desktop or laptop computer. In short: without HPC, our work would be impossible.”  

GMW datasets are available for download at https://data.unep-wcmc.org/datasets/45. 

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