Ian Lockwood


Archive for January 2012

GIS Developments at OSC in 2011

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Sinharaja rainforest in the south west portion of Sri Lanka has been an ideal field study site for OSC’s DP Geography and Environmental Systems a& Societies classes for the last seven years. Increasingly, with changes in the syllabi, we have been looking at interactions between human communities and the different ecosystems that are a part of this World Heritage Site. Use of spatial data and mapping study sites using GIS have become integral to our studies.

The last year has seen continued growth go the GIS program at the Overseas School of Colombo. We continue to maintain a concurrent license of ESRI’s ArcMap 10, together with several extensions (3D, spatial analysis etc.) in a package designed for schools, universities and libraries. We have invested in spatial data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department and have obtained vector data for our study sites at Sri Pada/Peak Wilderness and Sinharaja rainforest. Equally important has been the contribution of data and guidance from several national and international organizations in Colombo. Dilip Hensman at the World Health Organization (WHO) has helped us with up-to-date data on health outbreaks, notably dengue at a district and DS (Divisional Secretary)  level in Sri Lanka. Skylor Knoll utilized this in his world studies extended essay. He investigated spatial patterns of rainfall and dengue–related mortality over a two-year period. Tushara at the World Food Program (WFP) has been a helpful guide with understanding and using up-to-date SRTM data. In the previous year he presented a lecture on how the WFP uses GIS to better provide food to (flood and conflict) affected areas in Sri Lanka. Senior student Camie Raguin conducted a short environmental impact assessment as part of her extended essay in the northern areas. With the aid of the able skills of Alex Mylvaganam, she was able to utilize UNDP spatial data to produce her own basic locational maps of her study site. Salman Sidique and his team including Ad Ranjit and Sajid remain one of my best resources for tinkering help. IWMI’s GeoPortal is a great place for free vector data of Sri Lanka and the basin areas where they are working.

Sample student work (Satyanshu & Vera) from a study on demographic trends in contrasting countries using age-sex pyramids generated on ArcView by the Grade 11 DP Geography class in the Fall of 2011.

OSC students in Sinharaja negotiating moss covered boulders along a riparian patch of unlogged forest near the research station. Group shot with Martin at his lodge at the end of the study, a tradition started on our first study in 2005.

One result of our continued GIS development at OSC is that this year’s IBDP Geography classes produced far superior maps of the IA field study site at Sinharaja. This year almost many of the students looked at some aspect of land use in the area and all the students created their own original maps (see samples below). The 1:50,000 vector data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department may be slightly dated but it provides a good basis for ground truthing and observation. We have more GPS units and thus teams can go in different directions to gather data simultaneously. The field visit happened in May 2011 but it took several months to process the data and to finally write it up into their final reports that will be submitted for the DP Geography exams 2012.

Three different maps from the Sinharaja Geography IA showing land use data, GPS points and the ranges of colorful options that students have when putting together their individual study maps. The picture shows a transect traversing a stream in primary forest above the Sinharaja research center. Maps by Terunaga (above two) and Sascha (below).

Collecting different types of data: Harini interviewing a woman about social economic conditions and home garden crop choices, Sascha checking water quality (temperature, turbidity, DO etc.) below Sinharaja using a Vernier probe and students taking GPS points along a secondary forest transect in Sinharaja’s Core Zone.

Sample student work from the MYP Humanities course. Leila, Tomosso and Dylan’s presentations of their spatial studies of the monsoon and other factors (human population, crop choices, land forms etc.). The posters were generated on ArcMap 10 after doing individual analysis on each data frame.

The Grade 10 MYP Geography class, which is now integrated with the History course, spends its first term looking at aspects of the monsoon in South Asia. This is broad-based learning activity that looks at physical aspects of the monsoon, its affect on agriculture in the region and what impact it has on South Asian culture. Most of the time is spent exploring and extended a lesson on the South Asian monsoon that is a module in Anita Palmer et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS. The study coincides with the end of the South West monsoon and the onset of the North East here in Sri Lanka. An amusing aspect is capping the unit off with a showing of a condensed version of Lagaan, the Oscar-nominated Bollywood film. In the story a severe drought and the monsoon serve as important metaphorical backdrops to a lengthy cricket battle in a fictional location in western India during the late 19th Century. The students produced an annotated poster illustrating a geographical question and aspects of their investigation. They need to include 1-3 maps, graphs and annotations (samples above). This will be submitted as moderated samples for their Humanities course.

Personal explorations with GIS Data from South Asia. The two larger scale maps were used for various assessments in MYP, while the Arugam Bay land use was an exercise in using different layers of data from Sri Lanka’s East Coast. The data on the above left map of South Asia is courtesy Natural Earth, which has a free global data set with elevations and bathymetric data.

GIS generated map showing OSC’s post-tsunami supported pre-schools near Hambantota.

On a personal level I made strides in developing my own cartographic skills using GIS when I had to design and produce several maps for my Sri Pada exhibition. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and I continue to get some of my best work done under such conditions. One of the maps below highlights the OSC service projects with Tsunami affected communities in the Hambantota area.

I have also started to explore a variety of other GIS applications, though because we have the license most of my efforts have been focused on ArcView skills. There are now several open-source GIS software packages, including Q-GIS. I have also started to build up a personal teaching Wiki for students to use as an online repository of links and references. I have a dedicated page of GIS Resources with special focus on Sri Lanka and South Asia.  In this next year I hope to polish student skills for use in their course, continue to build up our database of spatial data and to further explore different GIS applications in education.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-22 at 5:44 am

Winter Study and Pilgrimage to the Peak

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Sri Pada East face in the bright light of a winter day as seen from Moray Estate on December 12th morning.

The pilgrimage season to Sri Pada begins with the poya in December.  The weather is always a little unpredictable at this time with the North East monsoon still being active with gaps of cool, dry weather mixed in with violent thunderstorms. For the last several years I have been taking small groups of OSC IB Environmental Systems & Societies students up to the peak during the same time. My goals have been to give them a sense of ecosystems and the changes in structure, plant types etc. as you ascend. A trek up to the peak through the Peak Wilderness forests give one an excellent cross section of changes in vertical zonation. On the path there are numerous managed landscapes (plantations, hydroelectric schemes etc.) to observe and study. Most importantly the trip gives students a chance to be outside and to feel and breath what has previously been taught in the classroom.

Now that I have fairly decent spatial data of the area, we have been looking at the variety of land uses in the Central Highlands.  Starting with rubber plantations and home gardens  in the lower elevation and then moving up through patches of undisturbed forests through non-native eucalyptus and pine forests there is a good deal to observe and study. In the mid elevations we passed through the enormous and expansive tea plantations that are the most important feature of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Finally as we pass through the Moray tea estate we encounter the undisturbed montane forest that represents the original vegetation of the hills. The walk up to the peak is mostly spent in these forests but near the summit (after 1,800-2,000 meters) vegetation typical of cloud forests is more prominent (Rhododendron sp. trees, Cyathea tree ferns etc.).

We had an energetic group of seven students that were able to do the walk with relatively minor difficulty. Last year several students had suffered from dehydration and altitude sickness-like symptoms that prevented us form making it to the summit. This year, under similar clear sky conditions, we went slowly. It got cloudy later and half way up to the summit  a deluge came down. Thankfully we had made it to a tea shack on the main path. It was quite wet by the time made it to the top where we spent the night. Leaches were a major distraction and the physical challenge of getting up the mountain through the wet forest made it challenging to facilitate learning on the pathway. At the top I shared my Paths to the Peak exhibition brochure with the temple monks, the first time that ‘ve brought it up. Thankfully we were able to get a room to stow gear while most of the group slept on the floor with other pilgrims. The next day’s dawn was beautiful though it lacked the first light and hence mountain shadow. We returned via the Hatton steps and we’re having brunch by 11:00. The 4,600+steps are a real nuisance on one knees and legs and few in the group weren’t limping through the rest of the week. I would prefer to take the decent more slowly but there were schedules to keep and we had the team safely back in Colombo by 3:30.

For further reading on the ecology, landscapes and culture of Sri Pada see my Serendib (2008), Outlook Traveller (2007), International Schools/IS (2007) and Frontline (2011) articles.

OSC students and teachers before climbing and on the way up to Sri Pada (December 2011).

Droppings, devotion and diversity on the path up to Sri Pada. The first image is of an unmistakable leopard stool specimen. The middle image is of a Hindu shrine on the way up through the little used Moray Estate path.

Starting the hike up to the peak through tea estates. Storm clouds to the east will soon bring on a deluge on our walk up through the montane forest.

North view over Maskeliya from Sri Pada in moonlight.

West view from Sri Pada in moonlight showing the two longer pilgrim paths through the Peak Wilderness forests to Kuruwita and Ratnapura.

South view towards Sinharaja from Sri Pada in the early morning.

North view over Maskeliya from Sri Pada in daylight.

Moon setting over the Peak. Two nights before had been the Poya night marking the onset of the Sri Pada pilgrimage season and we were fortunate to witness this scene in the early hours of December 12th.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-10 at 4:44 pm

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