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Doctoral students receive fellowships to study African grasslands, water resources

Njoki in Kenya

While doing field work in the Dindir National Park in southeastern Sudan, Njoki Kahiu, second from left, collects data on land cover types and land use, both by humans and for wildlife. The women are getting water from a borehold, a shaft drilled into the ground. Her work was part of an Intergovernmental Authority on Development project aimed at natural habitat conservation and sustainable development.

Two doctoral students have received Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future Fellowships to support research using earth-imaging satellite data through the Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence to manage natural resources in Africa.

Njoki Kahiu, a native of Kenya, is mapping grasslands and savannas, particularly in eastern Africa, to help manage livestock and develop strategies for wildlife conservation, while Esther Mosase of Botswana is tracking surface and ground water in southern Africa.

The fellowships are given to female scientists and engineers from developing countries doing doctoral or postdoctoral work at leading universities worldwide. This year, 155 women received new fellowships and 135 extended their existing grants.

Mapping grasslands

Kahiu, who began doctoral work at SDSU three years ago, is analyzing 10 years of data to see how forage has changed on a continental scale and then will evaluate the quality of the dominant species of grasses and trees in eastern Africa. She received a $44,000 fellowship to support her work.

"We don't have a clear picture of where the resources are," said Kahiu, who earned her master's degree from the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

In the arid and semi-arid climate of Africa, water sources also affect the grazing patterns of livestock and wildlife. "One year we have plenty; the next year maybe drought," she pointed out. By mapping the grasslands and savannas, she can pinpoint those areas where better management and conservation are needed.

In addition, understanding forage distribution may help wildlife officials prevent poaching, she explained. By matching the animals with their preferred forage, Kahiu, who has worked with Kenya wildlife services, hopes to estimate where certain animals are likely to move.

Her adviser is professor Niall Hanan, a senior scientist at the Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence.

Tracking ground, surface water

Mosase Esther
Esther Mosase

Mosase, who earned her master's degree from the Botswana College of Agriculture and came to SDSU last year, sees water as one of the main challenges in southern Africa.

She will use hydrologic modeling and satellite imagery to characterize the water resources in the Limpopo River Basin, a watershed that covers parts of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

She received a $50,000 Schlumberger fellowship last year and the award has been renewed. Her adviser is assistant professor Laurent Ahiablame of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.

"Using satellite images, I can look at a vast area within a short time," Mosase said. "It is wise to know which areas are sources of water and which are the sinks that cause water losses."

By evaluating changes in surface and ground water over time, she can identify those areas that face challenges and formulate strategies to manage the available water more wisely in Botswana and the Limpopo River Basin. This will also lay the groundwork to apply these technologies to other watersheds in the region, Mosase added.