Balik Scientist advocates the application of Earth Observation for Ecosystem Accounting
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A Netherlands-based researcher and Balik Scientist awardee highlighted using Earth Observation (EO) as an effective tool in ecosystem accounting during his exit report presentation held virtually on May 3, 2024.

Dr. Arnan B. Araza, a postdoctoral researcher at Wageningen University and Research, capped his recent engagement under the Department of Science and Technology’s Balik Scientist Program (BSP) with his presentation, “The Extent, Condition, and Services of the West Philippine Sea’s Key Ecosystems in the Perspective of Earth Observation.”

Drawing from his extensive experience in remote sensing and spatial modeling, Dr. Araza demonstrated how EO could be applied in natural capital accounting, particularly in the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, an international statistical standard and framework for measuring the extent and condition of ecosystems and estimating the flow of services from these ecosystems.

According to Dr. Araza, EO, which uses special cameras or sensors mounted on satellites to provide a “signal”-based interpretation of the Earth’s surface, generates valuable information for ecosystem accounting, including ecosystem extent and various indicators of ecosystem condition (e.g., forest structure, above-ground biomass) and ecosystem services (e.g., carbon sequestration). 

The maps and analysis generated from these “snapshots” of the Earth as input to ecosystem accounting could provide a deeper understanding of the interaction between economy and environment and help give greater prominence to ecosystem services in the country’s environmental planning and decision-making processes.

Dr. Araza’s engagement as a Balik Scientist mainly focused on his contribution to the “Natural Capital Accounting of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea” Project (RE-INVEST WPS Project 2), which aims to develop a national framework for coastal and marine natural capital accounting. 

In particular, Dr. Araza focused on assessing and harmonizing different mangrove extent maps and reviewing different blue carbon spatial estimation methods. 

He also conducted lectures and workshops in the context of geospatial data science, emphasizing the good practices in using artificial intelligence or AI for mapping ecosystems and its services, especially the associated uncertainties from input data, sampling, and models.  

RE-INVEST WPS Project 2 is a three-year project funded by the DOST-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD). It is implemented by the UPLB Interdisciplinary Studies Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Environment Management (UPLB-INREM), which served as Dr. Araza’s host institution for the BSP.

In the welcome remarks delivered on behalf of Dr. Reynaldo V. Ebora, executive director of DOST-PCAARRD, Dr. Adelaida T. Calpe, director of DOST-PCAARRD’s Inland Aquatic Resources Research Division, said that Dr. Araza’s Balik Scientist engagement is in line with the council’s duty to contribute to the process of knowledge exchange. Dr. Calpe said this is significant in fostering innovations that benefit researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

In his opening message, Dean Marlo D. Mendoza of the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources said that Dr. Araza’s engagement as a Balik Scientist has helped “move the needle forward” in promoting natural capital accounting for sustainable natural resources and environment management.

Representatives from DOST-PCAARRD and UPLB-INREM also gave their impressions on Dr. Araza’s exit presentation. 

Dr. Calpe and Dr. Fezoil Luz. C. Decena, director of the institution development division, provided impressions for DOST-PCAARRD, while Dr. Asa Jose U. Sajise, co-project leader of RE-INVEST WPS Project 2, and Dr. Juan M. Pulhin, director of UPLB-INREM, spoke on behalf of the host institution.

In closing, Dr. Richard E. Amansec, director of DOST-PCAARRD’s Management Information Systems Division, stated that Dr. Araza’s commitment and dedication are a testament to every Filipino’s natural desire to give back and help the motherland. 

Dr. Amansec also thanked UPLB-INREM for hosting Dr. Araza’s BSP stint and for its openness to providing a more vibrant environment for budding researchers and scientists to innovate and create change toward progress and development continuously. (Christian Ray C. Buendia)

This article was first published on the UPLB website and can be accessed through this link.