Learning how to identify soils in the Falklands Islands

By iLaria Marengo

Soil is a natural, unique and multifunctional resource that provides and supports a range of ecosystem services, in the form of food and as a host for organisms and material that are important for human life. However, much we know about what we are standing on? How much are we aware of soils, their characteristics and properties? Can we use the soil in a more advantageous way for our activities without damaging them?

The Falklands Islands are an archipelago that spread across a bit more than 12,000 square kilometres and we know only approximately and generically about the soils within the islands. In order to start addressing this, a two week course in soil identification was funded as part of an EU BEST project, the Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Falklands – A climate change risk assessment (TEFRA), led by Dr Rebecca Upson and Prof Jim McAdam.

Rodney Burton, with 45 year of experience in soil survey, has travelled all the way south to train and enthuse representatives of Falklands Conservation (FC), Department of Agriculture (DOA), landowners and SAERI about soils. The aim of the course was to provide information and stimulus for the participants in understanding the basics of soil, its properties and processes, and how to apply that understanding to their everyday work and own specific needs.

The lack of a soil map is a noticeable and important gap in the baseline spatial information of the Falkland Islands. Hence, the main objective in learning about soils is to enable the participants to gather soil information (through description, interpretation and recording) to improve the first draft of the TEFRA project soil map. This map is an interpretation that Rodney Burton has produced based on the solid and superficial deposits geological maps.

 

The new skills acquired during the course are going to be applied to the identification and description of soil profiles for the main soil types derived from the TEFRA soil map. The idea is to do surveys at specific study areas chosen by Dr Stuart Smith, leader of the habitat restoration project at FC, add some opportunistic auger holes at farms where DOA is taking already soil samples for lab analyses and wherever leisure walks take iLaria Marengo in her attempt to walk each 1 km2 cell of the OS map.

The course was fascinating and enjoyable. It comprised of two days in the classroom, where Rodney gave a general introduction on soil genesis, classification, sampling, interpretation and a description of the soil survey field handbook. This was followed by a week spent in the field finding spots for the description and interpretation of soil profiles.

Each day in the field revealed something new. We went from some extreme conditions, such as snow and freezing strong winds, to a more “balmy” temperature of 8 degrees and absence of wind. We found that the soils are largely shallow, except in areas where peat accumulates. In Cape Pembroke we dug through almost 4 metres of peat but in the other locations we didn’t manage to dig more than 40 cm because the bottom (clay) was too hard.

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Interesting periglacial polygonal features were spotted in all the location and in Saladero ventifacts were scattered across some bare land. Both features thrilled an already enthusiastic Rodney and were evidence that the geomorphology of the Falkland Islands is extremely rich in fascinating and puzzling features which are worth further investigation.

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We would like to thank Rodney for the way he taught us soils, for his passion and the clarity of his explanations. Another thank is for the TEFRA project which made possible this course. We hope that as participants we can use the new skills efficiently and in a useful way.

 

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From Rome to Nødebo, learning webGIS techniques and meeting with QGIS developers, educators and other users.

By iLaria Marengo

One of the aims of the IMS-GIS data centre is to make open data available to all. The best way to reach multiple users, who may or may not have skills and insight on GIS, is to develop and provide a webGIS service. Through the web, data can be visualised, queried and then downloaded.

In Rome I attended a two day course that was run by Paolo Cavallini (http://www.faunalia.eu/en/), one of the promoters of QGIS. The course was essential to understand how QGIS server runs and how it allows the user to work on a QGIS project and publish it to the web to make it accessible to a wider public.

The course was very good, with 5 participants and taught by Paolo with the help of Andrea Fantini (http://www.tecnostudiambiente.it/). First of all we explored a few plugins that allow publishing data online. Then we moved to the core of the course, which was the installation of QGIS server (it runs better on a Linux server) and the use of Lizmap as web interface. We were given a virtual machine to run the installations during the course, but now that I am back to the Falklands I will be installing QGIS server on the real server at SAERI, with the assistance of Synergy, the local IT Company.

The advantage of using QGIS server is that the webGIS reflects exactly what is in the project, symbology and attribute tables. Hence publishing data online and creating webGIS services is very easy and quick and all the changes and modification can be executed directly from QGIS. By the end of 2015 a webGIS service should be available for Falkland Islands users.

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From chaotic but beautiful Rome, I then moved to tranquil and relaxing Nødebo (Denmark) to attend the first QGIS conference for users, developers and educators. Around 150 people gathered for the event, representing and 25 countries.

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The setting was ideal, the Skovskolen (Landscape and Forestry College of the University of Copenhagen) provided all the facilities and the organisation was superb thanks to the hard work of Lene Fischer and her team.

I had the chance to present the QGIS training courses and GIS development promoted by the IMS-GIS data centre across the UK Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic. I also had the opportunity to listen to many case studies presented by other users. The second day focussed on workshops and gave everyone the opportunity to have the developers of QGIS tools and plugins as teachers for a day.

What I really appreciated in my two days in Nødebo was feeling at ease and comfortable with the “geo-geeks”.  All of them were very approachable, helpful and interested to hear from the users, talk to them and understand the sort of issues we have encountered whilst using the software. I started using QGIS almost 2 years ago and I am extremely happy with the software. It performs very well, but above all it is supported by a wide community, which thrives on and is full of ideas and new developments.

Socialising at the conference was not difficult at all and it would have been great to be able to spend more time with the developers, as I found all of them extremely keen on making QGIS a better product. The strength and potential of open source was tangible, and it is important that the users contribute to improve QGIS by finding  bugs, asking for new plugins and highlighting those that still require some polishing. Promoting and sponsoring QGIS is also very important to broaden the community and make the use of QGIS more wide spread.

It was a great experience and I was happy to participate in this first event, which I hope is the first of many. I would like to thank the organisers, the developers that spent time listening to us and the rest of the users and educators that gave examples of the use and application of QGIS.

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