Tell us about yourself

Arun Prasad Kumar (27) currently pursuing a PhD in Earth Remote Sensing and Geo-Information, Technology from the department of earth and space sciences of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology is the only Indian among the 27 winners from more than 90 countries to bag a ‘Green Talents Award’ at the 7th Green Talents 2015.

Green Talents – International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development, hosted yearly by the German federal ministry of education and research (BMBF), calls for applications from all over the world from young visionaries to come up with innovative concepts to make the planet sustainable.

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What did you study?

I am interested in applications of Remote sensing and GIS in vegetation, forestry, mineral exploration and hydrology. As I have studied Geography, with Geology in my graduation (Government College, Kariavattom, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala) as one of the allied subject, I could utilize that knowledge for geological studies also. I have experience in collection and analysis of field data.

My PhD thesis was about the application of contemporary hyperspectral remote sensing and GIS techniques to identify mangrove species in Indian east coast at species level for active monitoring and conservation studies. I used field spectrometer data and hyperspectral images for the analysis using modern classification algorithms.

What do you do?

Arun holds a Master´s degree in Earth Remote Sensing and Geo-Information Technology from Madurai Kamaraj University. In his research, he focuses on species-level classification and biophysical characterisation of mangroves using Hyperspectral Remote Sensing, especially in wetlands.

The developed framework classifies different species of mangroves using their spectral properties in hyperspectral satellite imaging. Furthermore, it improved the accuracy of the final output, which eventually helps in estimating spatial extent of species, stress identification and dynamics of invasive species.

In 2015 Arun received the Green Talents award. The jury honoured the way in which his research is both wide in scope and concrete in its application.

Arun’s impressive academic background in Remote Sensing, Ecosystems and Forestry has included five scholarship awards in India from different award-granting institutions and a position as an academic research student at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Department of Space. Now in the fourth year of his doctoral studies in Hyperspectral Remote Sensing of Mangroves, Arun’s research involves interdisciplinary interests such as mangrove biology, ecosystem management, image classification, machine learning, and pattern recognition. His research focus also incorporates socio-economic awareness initiatives. These offer greater insight to the local community regarding the benefits of mangroves and implement discussions in the area of study. The final objective of the research is to understand the changing dynamics of different mangrove species in the ecosystem, their nature and the consequences of this change, using temporal hyperspectral images.

As a part of his research, Arun has conducted field surveys and collected spectral information from 34 different mangrove species. According to Arun, this new dataset would be helpful for future researchers to identify species by interpreting the spectral characteristics of hyperspectral satellite data. The professional goal of the research is to develop a model that automatically detects the species from hyperspectral satellite image based on the spectral library using pattern recognition and machine learning algorithms. His research work also relates to sustainable science in Germany. The airborne hyperspectral data has been used to a great extent in agricultural applications in Germany for the estimation of production, stress management and dynamics of invasive species in agriculture. This could be extended to forestry applications particularly in temperate forest mapping, fire damage estimation and the identification of illegal logging.

How does your work benefit the society?

Kumar’s thesis focuses on ‘species-level classification and biophysical characterisation of mangroves using hyperspectral remote sensing’. “Survival of mangroves and coastal ecosystems are important to reduce carbon dioxide in our atmosphere which ultimately leads to greener environment. Mangroves act as natural barriers or buffer zones against natural disasters such as storm surges, tsunamis and strong winds. Mangroves have very strong and complex root system which attaches to the soil very strongly and protects the people living near it. Such root systems also prevent coastal erosion,” says Kumar. The thesis also incorporates socio-economic awareness initiatives to give more insight to the local community regarding the benefits of mangroves and to implement conservation activities in the study area.

As the part of the application process, Kumar was asked to fill in his personal information, details of his scientific background, scholarships/ awards and honours to his credit, research experience, publications list and his motivation for research. “We had to write about the prospects and perspectives of our research work in sustainability and how we relate our work to sustainability research in Germany.”

“As my research is closely related to the environment and sustainable development, I feel it helped me to be successful in the selection process. The proposal regarding our research problem and motivation to apply for Green Talents event that we submitted was really important. We had to relate our work with ongoing research in our field in Germany and had to mention that how our work would contribute to their research,” Kumar added.

Kumar has largely worked in the Bhitarkanika National park located in Kendrapada district in the northeastern part of Odisha. “I had presented a summary of the research work I had done in the last four years in my online application and submitted the online application on June, 2015.”

How was your experience in Germany?

While in Germany Kumar visited several Companies (Henkel, ThyssenKrupp steels etc) and Research Organisations (KompetenzZentrum – Wasser Berlin, Fraunhofer FOKUS, TU Berlin, Ecologic Institute Berlin) that made him realise how serious the companies were about environmental issues and how intensively they pursued research in sustainable development and environmental policy making. “As a part of a scientific tour, they took us on city tours in Berlin and Dusseldorf which was actually a great experience to explore their culture, food and customs.”

Kumar was presented the award signed by the Federal minister for education and research, Government of Germany. As one of the winners, he also attended a full two-week programme during October 17 to October 31 this year and now has an opportunity to go back to Germany for a fully-funded research stay for three months in any German university / institution, company or organisation in the following year. “We have been given time to decide the host and organisation where we can do our research stay next year. We have to inform “Green Talents” organisers about our host and time of our research stay a month prior to that. I have to start my research stay before December 31, 2016.”

Kumar is at present working on his research study which will be finished by February 2016 and it takes another three to four months for its evaluation. So after evaluation once his research work is published he will go to Germany for further research depending on the evaluation results. He would work on which university to go in Germany post February 2016 once free from his research study, he says.