Dr Mark Boitt: UAVs have disrupted mapping as we knew it; and it’s fascinating

A surveyor all rounded in the fields of Land & Engineering Survey and Remote Sensing Expert. Mark lecturers at JKUAT in the department of Geomatic Engineering and GIS.  In his own time you'll find Mark exploring the fantastic phenomena such as a possibility of life outside our milky way, travelling and reading.

In his words: “I value professionalism and quality output with regard to geospatial assignments. My ambition is to become a seasoned licensed surveyor in the coming future.”

Editor’s takeaway: “Africa has the technical capacity to advance research in geospatial technology, but experiences resource constraints”

Qn: You have done extensive research on applications of Remote Sensing especially on desertification, ecological modelling, hydrological assessment, climate change modeling. Our region suffers from major environmental issues on these 3 sectors. What’s your overall view on how GIS can help address these issues?

Ans: My passion is in the application of geospatial technologies for Agriculture, Environment and rural development. I have done extensive research on the application of Remote Sensing for agricultural studies. Agro-ecological modelling was part of my recent studies and I focused on new methodologies for modelling agro-ecological zones for Taita Hills.  I am planning to come up with one that covers East Africa using the same methods. Climate change is also one area where many scientists are considering nowadays. Definitely it comes with funding and the whole globe is concerned about the changes that climate can cause in the future say 2050 or 2090.

Desertification is a complex issue which depends mainly on climate change. Little research has been done that address desertification although the methods used are uncertain. I am currently working on this for Machakos County. Hydrological modelling is an area which has been explored by hydrologists using various available hydrological models but with little geospatial techniques. I thought of working from the already known models such as SWAT and incorporating geospatial data such as Satellite Imageries and combine it using multicriteria and data fusion algorithms to give a new investigation. Our focus on this was in Mau Forest Complex.

Our region suffers a lot on the above areas because we somehow lack the capacity, skills and the resources, but I would say in few years we will be able to address these concerns fully. The training that we offer in our Universities to surveyors, GIS experts, Planners, Valuers and even environmentalists will bear some fruit soon. Government policies had no concern on these issues in the past, but as we can see nowadays, even the devolved units such as county governments have now been forced to develop spatial plans that informs those counties on various county resources, various land economic zones and many more. In my view, GIS is a tool that almost every professional in Kenya need to know from banking sector, real estate, insurance, government institutes, non-governmental organizations, education sector among many others will in every day of their work need. This, will indeed solve our problems if we embrace it.

Qn: There is a lot of technological advancement in photogrammetry, geodesy and numerous modelling tools, how are these making the GIS professionals’ work easier?

Ans: With the emergence of new technologies in Photogrammetry, Geodesy and Modelling tools, the GIS profession is also becoming unique in itself. The need for real time information, up-to-date and accurate datasets is what many clients in the industry really need. This had always been a challenge in data acquisition e.g. the aerial mapping mission in which photographs were taken and later processed manually has been automated. Similarly to land surveying and remote sensing.

I must say also that with numerous data acquisition, we still have the problem of handling such datasets such as those from LIDAR/laser scanning systems, aerial mapping and even remote sensing (hyperspectral). The computer Processors and data handling procedures have not improved significantly in their speeds. It forces Geospatial experts to in some instances, filter raw data in order to process which could be a set back with regard to accuracy.

The new methodologies of remote sensing and the emerging technologies such as the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for mapping will revolutionize the way we do mapping and this really fascinates me.

Qn: As a lecturer in these areas of geospatial technology, how is the academic domain transforming to accommodate these new advancements?

Ans: As a lecturer of Remote Sensing, the academic domain especially in our region (East Africa) is slow in accommodating this changing advancements in the geospatial technology, but in a way positive to the changes. Although the academic sector is struggling in its own capacity due to financial constrains, the sector should budget for this new advancements. I can argue that it is difficult to train students in this new areas and when they land into the job market, they are clueless in what is available for their job execution. This is embarrassing. It actually happened to me when I landed in my first job as a Land surveyor. At least majority of the Universities and colleges offering Geospatial courses now have Total Stations and some with Geodetic GPS. A positive approach is to consider this new advancements and collaborate with the private and government agencies doing mapping so as to be up-to date with the industry.

In other developed world, it is indeed the academic sector that leads in the research and new developments of the Geospatial Technologies. For Instance, IDRISI (GIS and Remote Sensing software) was developed by Clark University, USA. ILWIS (Land and Water GIS software) was developed by ITC Enschede in the Netherlands. Africa has the capability too but lacks the resources