Human interaction with natural ecosystems on the agenda
Between the 26 September and the 2 October 2020, an international community of academics and professionals met to discuss mathematical tools and algorithms specifically related to the human interaction with natural ecosystems, to environmental monitoring, and to risk assessment. Participants who attended the virtual sessions hailed from different backgrounds, ranging from engineers who support scientific investigation through the development of new hardware and sensors, to computer scientists that focus on the data processing aspects, to geoscientists that are interested in geophysics, geology, hydrology and metrology. IGARSS2020 served as a platform for advancing remote sensing science and technology. The interdisciplinary array of expertise inculcating every conference panel, promoted a healthy cross-fertilisation of ideas between different projects.
During this event, Dr Adam Gauci and Prof. Alan Deidun from the Department of Geosciences of the Faculty of Science, together with Dr John Abela and Prof. Ernest Cachia from the Department of Computer Information Systems within the Faculty of ICT, presented a machine learning method based on Self-Organising Maps to automate the process of benthic habitat mapping. Such a process has become an important tool in the fields of marine impact assessment and marine conservation, as the data collected from underwater surveys aids in the reliable quantification of human impacts on marine natural habitats as well as in the proper design and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
In particular, this study compared the pros and cons of working with cost-effective, small-scale ROVs in the form of underwater drones as a substitute for SCUBA diving or other shallow-water surveying techniques in the rendering of benthic maps in a timely manner. This contribution is the outcome of a Masters in Applied Oceanography dissertation by former student Sean Dimech, who was also a co-author on the said contribution. This full-time, one-year MSc is offered annually by the Physical Oceanography Research Group within the Department of Geosciences. More information about this course can be obtained through this link.
During the symposium, Dr Gauci chaired the session on “Detection of Objects in Complex Environments” during which image processing methods for optical, multispectral, hyperspectral, and SAR data, were discussed. Universities and research institutes of the presenting authors who participated in this virtual session are based in China, France, India, Italy, and the United States.