EGU Guest blogger

This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you've got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts Artal to pitch your idea.

Report from the Spring School on “Statistical analysis of hyperspectral and high-dimensional remote-sensing data using R”, Jena, Germany, March 13-17, 2017

The Spring School on “Statistical analysis of hyperspectral and high-dimensional remote-sensing data using R” was organized by the GIScience group lead by Prof. Alexander Brenning and two researchers from his GIScience research group, Patrick Schratz and Dr. Jannes Münchow. The school brought together a diverse group of 28 researchers (e.g. geoscientists, forestry, environmental studies) at different scientific levels (graduate students, PhD, postdoc, professor) from all over the world as far as Chile, Peru, Turkey, and Bosnia & Herzegowina. Overall, eight german and 16 non-german participants (20 male, 8 female) took part in this event. During five days the participants were introduced to the theoretical background of hyperspectral remote sensing data and learned in numerous hands-on sessions how to analyse and illustrate spatial data in R. The Spring School was organized within the LIFE Healthy Forest project and supported by the Michael Stifel Center Jena. In this short blog-post I want to give you a quick overview of the many, many things we learned during this intense “spatial stats-and-R-week”.

Participants and organizers of the Spring School on “Statistical analysis of hyperspectral and high-dimensional remote-sensing data using R” in Jena, © H. Petschko

On the first day of the summer school the participants obtained a theoretical introduction to hyperspectral remote-sensing data with examples focusing on the application of hyperspectral data in forest research. Marco Peña from the Alberto Hurtado University in Chile gave a lecture on “Introduction to hyperspectral remote sensing” which brought everyone to the same level. This very comprehensive introduction was followed by a talk on hyperspectral applications exemplified on a study on forests in the Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland by Aneta Modzelewska from the Forest Research Institute in Raszyn. The last talk on the first day was by Dr. Henning Buddenbaum (University of Trier) on “Hyperspectral remote sensing for measuring biochemical leaf parameters in forests”. Dr. Buddenbaum is involved in the Science Advisory Group – Forests and Natural Ecosystems in the EnMAP mission, a German hyperspectral satellite mission aiming at monitoring and characterising the Earth’s environment globally.

The second day was filled with hand-on R sessions. In a first session by Patrick Schratz we learned about his “must know” features of R, namely Rmarkdown, the apply-family and pipes. This was followed by two session focusing on the usage of R as a GIS. Dr. Jannes Münchow, who developed the package RQGIS, an interface between R and QGIS which allows the user to access QGIS algorithms from within R. Afterwards we were introduced to the package mapview, an R package by Dr. Tim Appelhans. Mapview is a GIS-like interactive graphing tool that is directly accessible within RStudio (or the web browser, if you are not using RStudio). It is especially helpful if you want to quickly do a visual check whether a certain analysis has produced reasonable results.

The third day started with a lecture and hands-on session on “Statistical and machine learning in remote sensing” by Prof. Alexander Brenning with a focus on linear discriminant analysis, support vector machine and random forest. A short overview of these statistical modeling methods and the application in R including a comprehensive tutorial can be found here. In the afternoon, Dr. Thomas Bocklitz presented a very different perspective in the application of spectral data analysis in histopathology. Afterwards, the participants had a chance to discuss their own research involving spatial modeling techniques or R-problem with the group and the experts from the GIScience group in Jena.

Solving R-problems with Dr. Jannes Münchow, © H. Petschko

Open session during the Spring School to discuss research projects of the participants, © H. Petschko

Discussion sampling designs with Prof. A. Brenning, © H. Petschko

Introduction to parallel processing in R with Patrick Schratz, © H. Petschko

On the fourth day, Partick Schratz briefly introduced the hsdar developed by Dr. Lukas Lehnert from University of Marburg. It can be used for processing and analysis on hyperspectral data in R. Prof. Brenning focused in his second session further on the assessment of model accuracy (non-spatial and spatial validation methods, variable importance) using the sperrorest package and dealing with high dimensionality in linear regression.

Lecture by Prof. A. Brenning on “Statistical and machine learning in remote sensing”, © H. Petschko

On the last day, we visited a monitoring site and a site with tornado damage (see images below) from 2016 in the Thuringian Forest together with three experts from the official authority “ThüringenForst”. In conclusion, the Spring School was a great event with many fruitful hands-on R-sessions during which the participants could learn helpful tricks in R, how to use R as a GIS and about statistical and machine learning in R. Hopefully there will be more academic “schools” like this one to follow in the future (maybe even with a thematic focus on geomorphology or natural hazards).

Tornado damage in the Thuringian Forest from September 2016 © P. Schratz

Field trip to the Thuringian Forest, © P. Schratz

written by Anna Schoch (PhD student from the University of Bonn)

Soil is not dirt cheap: Soils, Sustainable Development Goals, and Geomorphologists.

Soil is not dirt cheap: Soils, Sustainable Development Goals, and Geomorphologists.

– written by Solmaz Mohadjer – 

Does contaminated soil make your bones go soft? What if you are told to stop growing vegetables in your garden because the soil is too toxic? What if farmers refuse to produce nutritionally valuable crops because of risk of massive floods? What would you do if you are forced to leave your farm due to fear of floods?

Surprisingly, these are the kinds of questions many farmers and families in Europe are asking themselves. These issues are as real as the tears of a farmer interviewed as part of a documentary titled RECARE (watch trailer) that was shown at GeoCinema at this year’s General Assembly. What threats soils and what one can do to prevent and remediate soil degradation are the focus of RECARE, a multidisciplinary team of different organizations brought together to tackle such vital issues.

Soil matters. Civilizations have flourished and collapsed because of fertile soil (or lack thereof). This is what Dave Montgomery emphasized in his book “Dirt” and at a well-attended and highly popular lecture at Town Hall in downtown Seattle many years ago. I was an undergraduate student back then, but his words stayed with me to this day: ‘We are slowly removing our planet’s life-giving skin.’ He explained how plow-based agriculture can bring the erosion rate of a flat place like Kansas close to a place like the Himalayas, and that with population growth, soil does not have a chance to regenerate.

It is no surprise that the 2030 agenda for sustainable development highlights soil-related issues within its 17 goals and 169 targets. Want to fight against poverty? Malnutrition? Climate change? Think soils and land. And if you are a geoscientist, you have a role to play whether you know it or not. In fact, many of the sustainable development issues are at the heart of geoscience disciplines (e.g., sustainable agriculture, water and sanitation, and climate change). These goals and the role of geoscientists in addressing them were discussed for the first time during this year’s General Assembly. If you missed this session, check out the curriculum developed by researchers at the University of Tübingen to explore these goals and to find out how you can contribute.

On the first day of the General Assembly, I had a chance to meet the EGU Division President of Geomorphology, Peter van der Beek, and to get his thoughts on the role of geomorphology in tackling sustainable development issues. Peter listed soil erosion and conservation as well as mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and hazards as topics that challenge today’s geomorphologists. Of all the 17 sustainable development goals, he highlighted climate action (goal 13) and Life on Land (goal 15) as areas where geomorphologists can make a significant contribution. “Geomorphologists also make indirect contributions to Zero Hunger (goal 2) and Clean Water and Sanitation (goal 6),” he added.

Which goal(s) is your research contributing to? Check out the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform and/or connect with organizations (such as Geology for Global Development) that can help you make a contribution toward some of these goals.



Solmaz Mohadjer is the founder of the ParsQuake Project, an initiative with a mission to increase earthquake awareness, education, and preparedness in the global Persian community. She is currently a geohazard PhD researcher in at the University of Tübingen, Germany, with strong interest in science education and outreach.


Unwind your EGU stress with a geomorphology memory game

Unwind your EGU stress with a geomorphology memory game

Solmaz Mohadjer, PhD student at the University of Tübingen, found the perfect way to relax during a stressful day at EGU while refreshing your knowledge on landforms: A MEMORY card game.

– written by Solmaz Mohadjer –

Assessing rock surface hardness, dating lateral moraines, modelling future mass-balance changes of glaciers, and playing memory games with school children. Meet Dr. Stefan Winkler, a geomorphologist at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. When he is not roaming around glaciers in New Zealand, Norway and the European Alps, he can be found in school classrooms, with a box of memory cards featuring photographs of different glacial features. The game is simple yet effective, fun and sometimes challenging, even for geomorphologists. The idea for the game came to Stefan while on a geology field trip. There are many ways to unwind at the end of a long day in the field: observing and contemplating nature, yoga, beer or simply going to bed. Stefan adds ‘playing match pair memory game’ to that list.

Most of us have played memory games before, often as kids or parents of kids. Stefan’s memory game, however, is not an ordinary one. It does require you to remember where the card pairs are placed, but that is only one way to get points. To score more, you need to be able to identify the landform shown in the photograph. Is it a drumlin, a fjord, or dead ice? Once the feature is identified, you are asked to describe the landform, explain how it is formed, what it is made out of, and what it says about the glacial history of the region. The game master then judges the quality of the answers using an information card developed for each photo pair. How many points do you think you can score?

This morning at the EGU Booth, I was lucky to stop Stefan from his busy schedule and ask him a simple question: Why do you do this? ‘We need to get geomorphology back into school curriculum,’ he says. But he also emphasizes the importance of considering the end user’s needs, ‘Sadly scientists often create educational tools without involving school teachers.’ He also points out how often teachers become frustrated when they cannot access educational resources developed by scientists because of IT incompatibility, and that the most useful resources are those that are developed in collaboration with teachers.

The memory game was presented at the 2015 General Assembly, and can be ordered by emailing Stefan directly. He will also be convening a session this Thursday, so stop by if you can. If you are lucky, you might be able to unwind with a round of match pair memory game.

solmaz_photoBy Solmaz Mohadjer

Solmaz Mohadjer is the founder of the ParsQuake Project, an initiative with a mission to increase earthquake awareness, education, and preparedness in the global Persian community. She is currently a geohazard PhD researcher in at the University of Tübingen, Germany, with strong interest in science education and outreach.



Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: