March 23, 2011 -- BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Faiz Rahman and Rinku Roy Chowdhury of the Indiana University Bloomington Department of Geography are receiving $637,000 from NASA to study the vulnerability of extensive mangrove forests in Bangladesh to climate change. The project is a collaboration by scientists from IU and the U.S. Forest Service.
"There's been a limited amount of research on the mangrove forests in this part of the world, so we are very pleased to receive the NASA grant to fund our work," said Rahman, the project's principal investigator.
The Sundarbans are the single largest block of mangrove forests in the world, covering nearly 10,000 square kilometers of the Bay of Bengal delta. Rahman says the mangrove trees play an important role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, but the extent of the carbon sink and the forest's role in climate change remain to be understood.
Trees and other plant life naturally absorb carbon from the ground and air, which not only provides vital nutrients, but also reduces the warming effect that carbon-based gases have on global warming.
Rahman and Roy Chowdhury's project is being funded by NASA as part of the U.S. government's Carbon Cycle Science Program, a partnership of several governmental agencies, including the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and NASA, among others. Rahman and Roy Chowdhury's project is the only one this year that targets a mangrove ecosystem outside of the United States. Another important aspect of the study, Rahman says, is that the research will not only focus on collecting information about forest density and carbon stocks. Rahman and Roy Chowdhury will investigate the degree to which humans are responsible for changes in the forests and the consequent socioeconomic impacts on Bangladeshis' lives.
"This is the first time in NASA's Carbon Cycle Science Program that there is a social science aspect to ecosystem carbon studies," said Roy Chowdhury, who is involved with the human dimensions of the study. "We want to provide a complete picture of how nature and society interact to affect the mangroves, and how mangrove changes in turn impact local livelihoods."
The area of the study concerning carbon stocks will employ two methods for evaluating the forest's capacity to store carbon. First, the carbon inventory will be done at about 150 sites throughout the entire mangrove forest which represent the diversity of mangrove species. At the same time, satellite images over these sites will be analyzed as a way to extrapolate these plot-based studies to the entire forest.
In the social science portion of the research, a survey of village and household uses of local land and forests will be conducted to gain information regarding how these environmental resources are being altered by the surrounding communities. The goal, Roy Chowdhury says, is to understand to what extent humans are changing the forests by farming, aquaculture in shrimp ponds, legal and illegal logging for timber and urbanization, and the ways in which local livelihoods are in turn being affected by forest changes. With research focusing on both environmental and social science, Rahman and Roy Chowdhury say results from the project could improve understanding of linked human-environment systems and help governments deal with climate change.
"We hope that the study will provide new insights into the role of these mangrove forests in climate change that will ultimately play a role in climate policy in this area of the world," Rahman said.
To speak with Rahman or Chowdhury, please contact Nicholas Yugo, University Communications, at email@example.com, or David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or firstname.lastname@example.org.