Completed projects

Historical Aerial Photographs and Archives to Assess Environmental Changes in Central Africa (PAStECA / 2017-2022 / Belspo BRAIN)

The study area of the PAStECA project (2017-2021) encompasses the western branch of the East African rift system (East DRC, Rwanda, Burundi), a region with a rapidly growing population. Despite the sometimes devastating impact of humans on their environment, the interactions between demography, land use and land cover change, and land degradation in the region remain mainly unstudied. A limiting factor of such research is the lack of historical data records. RMCA holds a vast collection of historical aerial photographs and archives dating back as far as to the 1950's. After converting the analog photographs into a digital format, we develop land use and land cover (LULC) maps for the region between 1950 and the present. These LULC maps enable the characterization of the links between humans and land degradation processes such as landslides, deforestation, and erosion. At the same time, the results of PAStECA serve as an indicator of how useful these archives are in the context of modern scientific research. They will clarify whether the investment in digitizing the historical aerial photographs is justified within the context of research.


Open-Vent Volcano Remote Sensing Monitoring Using Spaceborne Imagery (VeRSUS / 2019-2022 / Belspo STEREO III)

Volcanic eruptions represent a threat for populations living close to active volcanoes. Research focused on volcanic processes ultimately leading to an eruption is therefore crucial. Such research is best tackled through interdisciplinary approaches relying on the synergetic exploitation of observational datasets from ground-based instruments and satellite sensors, notably for remote and under-monitored active volcanoes. There is currently no satellite mission dedicated solely to the surveillance of volcanic activity. However, the new generation of satellites and sensors with improved sensitivity and spatial and temporal resolutions is a game-changer for volcano monitoring from space, and most remains to be done and explored. In the mother project RESIST (2014-2019, STEREO-III Programme), we developed new remote sensing tools that were used to study the eruptive activity of the Virunga volcanoes (Eastern D.R. Congo). Results showed promising perspective to further study persistent lava lakes using satellite remote sensing, especially with the new generations of satellites and sensors. In the VeRSUS project, we would like to take advantage of these opened perspectives and complement them with other volcano remote sensing approaches, in order to improve the study of persistent lava lakes and, hence, crustal magmatic processes.


Digital citizen science for community-based resilient environmental management  (D-SIRE / 2018-2021 / VLIR-UOS)

Previous projects in Uganda (e.g. AfReSlide) highlighted the developmental challenges posed by rural population exposure to natural hazards associated to population pressure, fragile livelihoods and land scarcity. To document the evolution in time of these hazards, identify potential suitable strategies to reduce their impacts, and raise awareness among the affected communities several participatory tools have been developed, including a serious game and the concept of geo-observer network. This network is based on data collection and reporting by local farmers through a smartphone application. The concept has so far been tested and proved operational in the Rwenzori mountains though still limited in terms of equipment, skills and geographical scope. The D-SiRe project aims at going a step further by 1/ extending the geographical extent of the geo-observer network to several district across South West Uganda; 2/ enhance the skills and knowledge of these geo-observers as environmental facilitators able to serve as interface between the communities and the scientists; 3/ develop teaching and research capabilities for geo-database management and analysis in the partner universities; 4/ scientifically valorise the crowd-sourced database to improve spatio-temporal modelling of hazardous processes; 5/ develop and test new methods to initiate the implementation of resilient livelihood practices; 6/ favour multi-lateral interactions between rural communities, district authorities and scientists.


Making Migration Work for Adaptation to Environmental Changes. A Belgian Appraisal (MIGRADAPT / 2018-2021 / Belspo BRAIN)

In the dichotomy between migrants and refugees/asylum-seekers, the former are typically cast as economically motivated, and set apart from refugees, fleeing war and persecution. Yet environmental changes are increasingly part of migration journeys, and count amongst the factors that call into question the distinction made between migrants and refugees. At the same time, in the international negotiations on climate change, migration is increasingly mooted as a possible adaptation strategy to the impacts of climate change. MIGRADAPT looks at the role of the environment as a driver for recent migration to Belgium. While it is unlikely that one could single out environmental changes as a key driver of migration to Belgium, except in exceptional cases, the project will rather attempt to provide an assessment on how migrants perceive the environment to have influenced their migration journey as well as how they perceive current environmental disruption in their countries of origin. In addition, MIGRADAPT provides evidence on how and under which conditions migration to Belgium can support the adaptation and resilience of origin communities and also on how the perception that migrants have on environmental shocks in their origin communities can impact the amount, form, and use of the socio-economic remittances. Through its transnational and multi-sited methodology that captures both the drivers and impacts of migration, MIGRADAPT addresses the multifactor aspect of the dynamics of environmental migration and its implications for both migrants and those remaining in communities of origin. 


A Multi-sensOr approach to characterize ground Displacements in Urban Sprawling contexts (MODUS / 2017-2021 / Belspo STEREO)

Landslide impacts are high in less developed countries, particularly in tropical areas such as the Kivu Rift (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi) where there is a combination of active tectonics, steep topography, intense rainfall and high population density. Following the RESIST project (2015-2019), which created a regional landslide inventory and characterized the main processes, the MODUS project focused on the sprawling city of Bukavu and its surroundings (DRC). A range of remote sensing techniques were used, including unprecedented long time series and quantification of land surface deformations, which are key to a better understanding of landslide mechanisms and improved risk assessment.


Modelling regional rainfall controls on landslides in the tropics in the context of climate change (MIRRACLE / 2016-2020 / F.R.S.-FNRS)

Landslides are one of the most pervasive hazards provoking casualties and significant economic losses at the global scale. In order to substantially reduce the impact of landslides, it is essential to understand the factors controlling when and where landslides occur (hazard). Landslide hazard investigations in Central Africa are notably deficient due to the data-scarce context, rather than to the lack of landslide occurrence. Motivated by the observed discrepancy, this project is oriented to collect the spatiotemporal data required for landslide hazard assessment, and to develop tools for regional hazard assessment adapted to data-scarce contexts, using state-of-the-art satellite rainfall data, with a focus on the central section of the western branch of the East African Rift. Throughout this project, we compiled the first regional event inventory comprising information on the date and location of landslide events, and an unprecedented record of rain gauge data for the validation of satellite-based rainfall estimates from TMPA and IMERG. These data serve to calibrate the first regional rainfall thresholds for Central Africa, that is, a principal tool for characterizing landslide hazard. To this aim, a novel statistical threshold approach was developed, based on the relation between antecedent rainfall and landslide susceptibility for the definition of spatially varying rainfall thresholds.


MUlti Zone phase Unwrapping using advanced split-Band Interferometry (MUZUBI / 2015-2020 / Belspo STEREO III)

The MUZUBI project aims at developing a novel methodology to improve the phase unwrapping in SAR interferometry (InSAR). Indeed, it targets to fill the gap toward a fully developed Split Band-assisted phase unwrapping processor for SAR interferometry using Multi-Chromatic Analysis. It is thus proposed to adapt existing processor to specific pursuit and spotlight TerraSAR-X (TDX) acquisition schemes and combine SBInSAR processor with classical phase unwrapping procedure in order to get absolute phase measurement on all coherent zones. The developed technique will be applied to the study and monitoring of two active volcanic zones: the Nyiragongo/Nyamulagira (RDC) and the Copahue (Argentina). In the first case, it should allow getting connected displacement measurements on separated areas around the highly vegetated volcanoes. In the second case, known to be more challenging in terms of topography, it should allow to resolve the required topographic component.


Remote Sensing and In Situ Detection and Tracking of Geohazards (RESIST / 2015-2019 / Belspo STEREO-FNR)

The RESIST project contributes to the understanding of the source mechanisms driving volcanic eruptions and landslides in the area extending from North Tanganyika to North Virunga by:
                1) filling the gap of knowledge on ground-based level and;
                2) combining this information with innovative earth observation (EO) approaches.
RESIST exploits ground-based instrument networks, field surveys and modern EO techniques (Split Band and MSBAS InSAR time-series, SO2 flux, TRMM) to study and characterize the changes in the monitored parameters that could/should be considered as significant in terms of volcanic and landslide processes.
The project is funded by the STEREO programme of the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and the Luxembourg National Fund for Research (FNR). The project is coordinated by RMCA, in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History/European Center for Geodynamics and Seismology, Centre Spatial de Li├Ęge, Belgian institute for Space Aeronomy, and NASA-Landslides.


Landslides in Equatorial Africa: Identifying culturally, technically and economically feasible resilience strategies (AfreSlide / 2013-2018 / Belspo BRAIN)

AfReSlide is a scientific project funded by the Belgian Federal Scientific Policy (Belspo), as part of the Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks (BRAIN-be). Specific objectives:

  • To produce landslide susceptibility maps and identify return periods of landslide-triggering rainfall events in order to estimate landslide hazards in the 4 representative areas;
  • To analyze the types of elements at risk (immaterial and material) and their exposure, and to develop a methodology to economically value the consequences;
  • To assess resilience strategies at household and at policy levels;
  • To analyze the cultural premises underlying perceptions of environmental threats, to describe land rights and land management, and to identify culturally acceptable resilience strategies;
  • To produce hazard and risk maps develop a toolbox to identify the most effective and acceptable resilience strategies.


GeoKivu (2017-2019 / DGD)

GeoKivu is a project funded by the Belgian Directorate-General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD). This project aims at safeguarding and enhancing the archives of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) and partner institutions in Kivu. The geo-localizable archives of these institutions (maps, reports, memoirs, etc.) are inventoried and encoded in a geocatalogue of metadata that can be consulted online. In the framework of the reinforcement of the partners' expertise, each institution develops a specific GIS application aimed at enriching regional and local knowledge in different fields (earth sciences, geography, zoology).


Geo-risk in Central Africa: integrating multi-hazards and vulnerability to support risk management (GeoRisCA/ 2012-2017 / Belspo SSD)

In some places, geo-hazards are a major concern for population, the assets, and the economy. This is especially the case in the East African Rift (EAR), where high volcanic and tectonic activities are sometimes coupled with geopolitical issues and dense population as in the Kivu rift area. That area is one of the most densely populated regions of Central Africa and is affected by decades of political instability and subsequent humanitarian crisis. In that region, geo-hazards are poorly assessed despite the numerous recent and historical events. Moreover, the relief of the rift also corresponds in this area to the main political boundaries, which complicates the coordination and the management of geo-hazards monitoring networks and related mitigation measures.

Based on the experience acquired through several projects focused on hazard assessment and reinforcement of local monitoring capacity, the GeoRisCA project is addressing the assessment of the global risk related to the major geohazards that affect the region. Taking into account the identified factors, GeoRisCA's objective is to assess the risk from multi geohazards in a region which is subject to many (possibly combined) disasters every year and which could undergo a large impact disaster in the coming years. At regional scale, the high seismicity and the volcanic activity are the most important concerns. Possible eruptions of lethal gas in certain area around Goma, and the large number of reported and likely future mass movements as well as site-specific seismic amplification effects increase the danger at local scale.

As both human lives and specific ecosystems are under threat, comprehensive methodologies are required to reliably assess multi geohazards over both short and long terms and to clearly outline and map related risk. These tools are needed by local and regional authorities as well as local and international stakeholders in management and mitigation processes. Developed methodologies in GeoRisCA combine hazard and vulnerability factors, as well as risk perception indicators. Such an approach combining natural and human sciences to address georisks at a local scale has never been performed in that region so far.

GORISK (2007-2010 / Belspo STEREO II)

The GORISK Scientific Network is a group of scientists working on the study and the monitoring of the volcanic and tectonic activity in the Kivu rift basin (western branch of the East African Rift System). It is born from the Belgian-Luxembourgian GORISK project. Launched in January 2007 in the frame of the STEREOII program, the GORISK project was based a multidisciplinary approach focused on the implementation and improvement of ground-based and spaceborne tools for volcanic risk and health impact assessment in the Goma region (North Kivu, DRC). This area (potentially 1 million people) is threatened by two highly active volcanoes: Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira. The January 2002 eruption of Nyiragongo had an important and long-term economical, socio-political and humanitarian impact on the region. Though the Nyamulagira is not a major direct threat for populations. It erupts every two years and is a potential concern for some inhabited areas and road infrastructures . 

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