Academic Spotlight: Dedicated to preserving our forests and biodiversity
Polyanna da Conceição Bispo is Lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Manchester and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the Department of Geography. In her academic spotlight, she talks about her background, what attracted her to join Manchester and her area of research.
On your background
I am Brazilian and grew up in an area covered by the Brazilian Savanna Biome (Cerrado). During my first 12 years of life, I saw a massive change in this savanna landscape around my home by the expansion of agriculture fields and urban areas. I was intrigued and curious to understand what was happening which motivated me to do my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), Brazil.
Still curious about forests and human impacts on it I wanted to investigate this issue at large scales using Earth Observation techniques. This was the main reason which led me to my MSc and PhD in remote sensing at the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) in Brazil, followed by a short period of post-doctoral research at the same institution. There I developed my expertise in the Earth Observation science and improved my knowledge about Amazon and Cerrado biomes.
In 2013, I was awarded an International Fellowship funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) in Frascati (Italy) to develop and expand my work on SAR (Synthetic Aperture RADAR) applied to analyse forest structure in the Brazilian Amazon. I have increased my network and started developing international partnerships more intensely there. In order to apply and share the knowledge acquired I went back to Brazil where I did a year post by the University of ABC (UFABC) until the end of 2015. In 2016, I was awarded with Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program to develop my project on “Multi-frequency RADAR imaging for the analysis of tropical forest structure in the Amazon” at the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research (CLCR) at the University of Leicester, UK.
As Research Associate, I also worked on the Forests 2020 project there which was a major investment by the UK Space Agency, as part of the International Partnerships Program (IPP), to help protect and restore up to 300 million hectares of tropical forests by improving forest monitoring in six partner countries through advanced uses of satellite data. In December 2019, I started my position as Lecturer in Physical Geography at the School of Environment, Education and Development at the University of Manchester and as part of my role at the University I have also been the Officer for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at the Department of Geography since 2020.
On your decision to join Manchester
The Department of Geography is a very interdisciplinary environment and recognized worldwide by the quality of research and teaching. This together with the commitment of the department with social responsibility as well as equality, diversity, and inclusion were the main points that attracted me to work at Manchester. The possibility of working with different and interesting research groups – particularly the Mapping: Culture and Geographical Information Science (MCGIS) and Environmental Processes (EPRG) – is an excellent experience. Additionally, the Department of Geography and the University itself is a vibrant environment and all the colleagues are very supportive and friendly.
On your research
My research area is essentially remote sensing applied to tropical forests. I have been passionate about and working with Earth Observation, especially SAR and LIDAR applied to Tropical Forests, for many years. Using geotechnologies through my research I am seeking to understand 1) how environmental factors influence and shape biodiversity and forest structure in the tropics, 2) how biodiversity, forest structure, and carbon stocks respond to ecosystem processes and forest disturbances, 3) What the effects of climate variability and change are on forest composition and function across the tropics.
What prompted me to get into this area of the research was the seek for understanding in more details the ecosystems, landscape patterns and ecological process variation in these tropical areas over time as well as the effects of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on them. This would allow us to investigate more innovative and more certain solutions to dealing with urgent issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss.
On your teaching at postgraduate level
I am currently supervising PGT and PhD students on landscape ecology and remote sensing applications to analyse environment trends, forest composition and structure, and vegetation dynamics. My students are developing their research in a variety of topics within this context using geotechnologies.
At PGT level, I am offering a new module called Fundamentals of SAR and LIDAR applied to Environmental Monitoring. This discipline gives opportunity to the students to learn the principles, techniques, methods of LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) remote sensing for environmental studies. Different applications of LIDAR and SAR images are explored with a focus on forest structure and land use/land cover monitoring. Currently with the increasable growth of the Earth Observation (EO) science and industry it is important to offer opportunities to the students to be in contact with advanced technologies in the Earth Observation field. In this module, the students also will have a brief overview about landscape ecology and its application together with remote sensing to environmental studies.