School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

PhD Showcases the Application of Remote Sensing to Forest Monitoring

Dr Enoch Gyamfi-Ampadu graduated with his Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science. His research focused on the mapping of natural forest cover, tree species diversity and carbon stocks of a subtropical afromontane forest using remote sensing to enhance forest conservation and management.

Gyamfi-Ampadu received his schooling in Kumasi, the capital of Ghana’s Ashanti Region, and Sunyani, the capital of the Bono Region.

His interest in becoming a forester was aroused through a career outreach programme held at his Kumasi High School by the Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources Students Association (RENARSA), of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana.

Gyamfi-Ampadu was awarded a Diploma and later a BSc by KNUST. He completed his Master of Science in Environmental Science at Bangor University.

His PhD study focused on the Nkandla forest reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. Natural forests are high in biodiversity and provide multiple benefits to society. They absorb atmospheric carbon, contribute to rainfall patterns and provide food and medicine. However, they are under severe threat owing to climate change and human factors such as increased demand for forest products (timber and fuel wood). ‘It is thus important to map and monitor natural forests with advanced technology such as remote sensing and machine learning algorithms,’ said Gyamfi-Ampadu. Remote sensing involves obtaining information about an object or phenomenon without making physical contact with the object. Mapping and monitoring of natural forests provides credible information that assists forest managers, ecologists and conservationists in managing and protecting forests.

Gyamfi-Ampadu’s research provides recommendations on modelling approaches that could be adopted to replicate his study in other climatic and forest zones. He is currently focusing on part-time research and consultancy services. He hopes to become a lecturer and research scientist and contribute to the training and development of the next generation of natural resource scientists.

Speaking of his PhD, he said: ‘It has been a great and awesome experience. Through my supervisors, I gained experience in conducting advanced remote sensing research that could have a positive impact on science and society. I also gained knowledge from other local and international researchers that can guide me in my studies.’

Gyamfi-Ampadu has this advice for emerging researchers: ‘Form partnerships and networks that enhance and facilitate interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research to address common societal problems. As a researcher, persevere until you succeed.’

Dr Alma Mendoza-Ponce (based at the Atmospheric Sciences Center, National Autonomous University of Mexico) commented on Gyamfi-Ampadu’s PhD research: ‘The first time I had news from Enoch, I was surprised when he asked me for support for his PhD thesis because I am from a very faraway place. I was not sure if I could help him. He was so enthusiastic and hungry for learning that his enthusiasm was contagious. We exchanged ideas about how to develop some land-use change models for his study area. Month after month and year after year, the thesis was growing along with Enoch’s knowledge and skills. Years have passed, and Enoch finished his research.

‘He has become a self-sufficient scientist who never gives up and overcomes challenges. He is an excellent researcher, and I am sure he will produce outstanding scientific work in whatever he decides to do. I hope we can strengthen collaboration by creating creative and new environmental work for our countries.’

His supervisor Dr Michael Gebreslasie in UKZN’s Discipline of Geography commented: ‘Enoch has published four research articles in high-impact peer-reviewed journals. His findings will benefit the broader community, such as forest managers, ecologists and remote sensing experts, in adopting modelling approaches to assess the impact of climate change on natural forests locally and regionally. I am delighted to have supervised such a diligent student, and I wish him success in his new research career.’

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Supplied