Forest Degradation is happening at an accelerated pace globally, further triggering a chain reaction leading to global warming, pollution and natural calamities ! Hence, it is imperative to continuously monitor loss of green cover.

Prashant Patil, our next pathbreaker, Geo-Spatial Data Scientist at SatSure, applies Remote sensing & GIS technologies to map & monitor standing biomass & carbon of the forest, and crop type/yield using optical & radar technologies.

Prashant talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his interest in forestry and inclination towards being surrounded by plants & nature that led him to technologies that help manage & protect forest areas which ultimately benefit in terms of mitigating climate change & global warming.

For students, if you want to save nature or whatever is left of it, do whatever it takes to reverse the damage caused to our planet using cutting edge geo-spatial technologies !

Prashant, can you talk a little bit about your background?

I was born in a small village called Shiraguppi, Athani taluka, district Belgaum, Karanataka. It’s on the border of Karnataka & Maharashtra. I did my BSc, Forestry (4-years) from College of Forestry, Sirsi, Karnataka and my MTech. in Remote Sensing & GIS application in Forestry & Ecology from Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS), ISRO, Dehradun. Other than my studies and research work, I like to spend time gardening and in agricultural activities. I wanted to pursue my interest in forestry and always loved to stay in the granary and be in touch with nature. My father is an agriculturalist & my mother is a housewife

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did BSc Forestry (4 years) for my graduation and MTech for my post-graduation (Remote Sensing & GIS Application in Forestry & Ecology). 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Since my childhood, I have always been interested in gardening. I love being surrounded by plants & nature. My uncle who himself did MSc(Agriculture), suggested that I take up the BSc Forestry course which is offered by Agricultural universities. Hence, I applied to the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

While pursuing BSc Forestry, I was always interested in pursuing further studies in a technical field and in learning new upcoming technologies. I came to know about Remote Sensing & GIS technologies, which raised my interest in pursuing higher studies in the new and emerging technology of remote sensing. I then started to explore institutes offering the course and came to know about IIRS, Dehradun. I applied to IIRS, Dehradun and gave the written exam and interview. I got selected in the merit list and got admission. I secured a continuous 4 years, general merit scholarship in the College of Forestry, Sirsi and a 2 years’ fellowship in IIRS, Dehradun from ISRO-GBP (ISRO Geosphere Biosphere Programme). 

While I was working as JRF in ISRO, I had developed a methodology for mapping national forest biomass & carbon. I did field work in many parts of India and also conducted training for students & research scholars on remote sensing and ground data collection.

In my first job, i was involved in mapping & monitoring of forest biomass in southern Gujarat. Later on, i did the same project in many other areas such as Nainital, Panna, Kashmir valley, wester Ghats of Karnataka, a small study area in Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Sikkim, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh etc. Mapping forest biomass using remote sensing can provide a general picture of the carbon stocks within a region.

Next, as GIS engineer at RMSI, I did Forest type mapping & LULC classification of entire Cambodia, Forest type mapping, Forest biomass & carbon mapping of Siberia, Russia and created the GIS layer with all the information e.g. forest type, biomass, carbon, area burned etc., grid wise for entire Siberia.

Then i worked as international consultant at ICARDA, where I learned about new technologies used globally and published many research papers. In ICARDA I did crop type classification using very high resolution satellite data of Worldview-3 (a commercial earth observation satellite) of Jordan valley, 3 study areas of Afghanistan, Nile valley of Egypt, a small study area of Iraq, Syria etc. I also did crop & non- crop maps of entire Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and standing crop biomass & yield mapping of a small study area in Morocco. Here in ICARDA I mainly learned the applications of machine learning (ML) & artificial intelligence (AI) on high resolution crop type & yield mapping. 

Next, I got an opportunity to work as Research Scientist at RADI (Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth), China for which I got the CAS-TWAS fellowship. I had applied in CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences) for CAS-TWAS fellowship and I got fellowship for research work on the basis of my educational background, experience and publication record. In RADI I learned the skills to work globally with multiple satellites and published research papers. 

IAt RADI, i did continuous monitoring of cropped areas of South Asia, South-East Asia, French, Ukraine etc. and provided crop advisory for 2 years under global crop watch program of China. I worked on crop type mapping in India in different dryland regions using SAR data of Sentinel-1 C band. I have also done field work in many parts of India, Jordan and China and collected the ground points. I have published many research publications and also attended international conferences in Germany, Italy, China and Switzerland and presented my work.  

I got an opportunity to work in Earth Analytics India which is an affiliate of the Swiss high tech company, which is a global leader in radar technology. Here I developed my skills in radar technology & published research papers. 

Sarmap is a Switzerland based company which mainly works on radar technology and its main application is in mapping of paddy crop and monitoring of building or infrastructure deformations. I got an opportunity, as the project that i was part of offered training on radar (SAR) technology. The training was mainly on SAR data basics, SAR data downloading & processing and its applications in agriculture & forestry. 

How did you get your first break?

I got my first break of my career in 2013 when I got a job in ICARDA, Jordan, where I got selected as a research scientist. 

The position was open on their website for which i applied. I got a call for interview and presented my previous work which i had done in ISRO & RMSI. I got selected in ICARDA. I got the job in Earth Analytics India through LinkedIn. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Since I come from a rural humble background of South India, I initially faced a lot of problems related to language, interacting & communicating with people. Remote sensing technology was new to me and I was not very much experienced with computers. But I never took a step back. I started to interact in Hindi although I was making a lot of mistakes. But as I started to speak and interact in Hindi I got fluent in speaking & understanding the Hindi language. I started to learn computers as well as operating Remote Sensing & GIS software. I took the help of friends, youtube & my seniors and was very much focused in class, especially practicals. I worked very hard & got a good working knowledge of all the software. I also got an opportunity to get trained for a month in the lab of Sarmap, Switzerland. It’s one of the leading companies in radar technology. 

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do

I am now working in SatSure, a Bangalore based company which works on Remote sensing & GIS technology, related to Agriculture & Forestry as well as infrastructure mapping & monitoring. Here I mainly work on mapping standing biomass (standing biomass is the total weight of living organisms, including plants and animals, for a given area ) & carbon of the forest, mapping crop type using radar technology, mapping crop yield using optical & radar technology. It mainly requires in depth knowledge of Forestry, Agriculture, Remote Sensing, GIS and Radar Technology. In SatSure I really love to work with people of different backgrounds and like to learn the skills from them. 

How does your work benefit society? 

My work really benefits farmers in getting crop insurance, as crops often wither due to some natural calamities. In such cases, we use satellite image & remote sensing technology to assess the damages caused to standing crops. This benefits the farmers, insurance companies & policy makers. Also, in terms of forestry, our work gives accurate predictions that really benefit forest departments & policy makers in managing & protecting forest areas which ultimately benefit in terms of mitigating climate change & global warming.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

My work in the National Carbon project under ISRO-GBP where I got an opportunity to work as the frontline researcher for a small project in the southern part of Gujarat, was memorable The methodology was selected for standing biomass & carbon mapping nationally. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Always listen to your heart, pursue the higher education of your own interest & ability where you feel happy. Work hard & harder and get mastery of the skills, never adopt shortcuts, have patience, always upgrade yourself with new technology in your field, and always have a learning attitude.  

Future Plans?

I want to complete my PhD in the application of forestry, remote sensing & GIS. I also want to file my first patent on mapping forest biomass & carbon.