Update 3: Fieldwork Week 2 in the Dominican Republic

In my last blog post, I discussed my first week of field work in the Dominican Republic, which was spent evaluating coral cover using aerial and aquatic drones. In this post, I will discuss my second week of field work and what I have been working on since then.

The second week of field work in the Dominican Republic began with a meeting between our research team, staff from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) from the Dominican Republic and staff from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. We discussed different potential locations for the Resilient Islands project based on a variety of factors, including ecosystems located in the area, history of disaster in the area, and availability of staff/infrastructure in the location. In order for a location to be suitable for the project it needs to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change (flooding, sea level rise, etc.), to have ecosystems that can be modified to reduce the effects of climate change (mangroves, coral reefs), and to have a community with leadership willing and able to work on the project.

Although the communities that will be involved in the Resilient Islands project have not been officially identified, preliminary vulnerability analysis have identified communities that are being considered for the project. Miches, a town in the northeastern Dominican Republic, is one of these places under consideration.  Miches is in a vulnerable location on the coast and also has mangroves located around the community which would allow for ecosystem-based adaptations. Since Miches is a probable candidate for the Resilient Islands project, we spent several days there doing preliminary field work. Our first and primary task was to fly drone missions over the entire community in order to update flood maps of the area. The best flood data we had available to us was an old model created  using 30-meter Raster data, meaning the data was both dated and also very coarse. By flying the drone over the city, we were able to capture very fine quality data and also create an updated map of the structure in the community. To fly over the entire town, we conducted five drone missions at 600 feet. Then, we stitched together all of the thousands of images to create an orthomosiac of the area.

In addition to flying the drone, we were also able to meet with some members of the community to discuss the town’s history with flooding and storm surge. Our contact with the Red Cross put us in touch with a community leader who had been active in a previous Red Cross project. We met with her and several other members of the village. We discussed damage from Hurricane Maria that the area endured. Then we drove through the village with a community member and identified critical infrastructure in the area, such as hospitals, schools, churches, and community buildings. We used a software to capture our route through the town and also to take pictures and record GPS points of the critical structures.

Upon returning home, I have been working with Dr. Schill and Dr. Raber on finalizing our census variables to create an index to measure the vulnerability of a community. The index is based on an earlier part of the Resilient Islands project conducted in Grenada. It has three main indices: sensitivity, adaptive capacity, and exposure. Next week we will have a Skype call to narrow down the variables that we’ve selected and to chose those that most closely align with the questions that we are trying to answer through the census.

In addition to working on the census variable index, I have been digitizing the houses and roads in the town of Miches. Essentially, I am using the imagery we collected with the drones to map the houses and roads. I am using QGIS, a free GIS program, to draw polygons around the houses and to delineate the roads. Later, this information can be used to locate important infrastructure, like the locations mapped in the field in Miches. At this point, I have digitized over 1700 structures, which I estimate to be about half of those located in the town. The digitizing process has been more difficult than I had anticipated as it is not always clear where one house begins and another one ends.  While there are processes to automate the digitizing efforts, these often require a lot of cleanup afterwards, and due to the irregular nature of the roofs on the houses, I have elected to digitize by hand.

The image below is a small portion of the aerial photography of the town of Miches. The buildings covered in dark gray with red “x”s on the corners, indicate building that I have digitized.


In the next week or so, I will be completing my Story Map to display the research I have conducted. I will also be digitizing the remainder of the buildings and roads in Miches. Lastly, I will be working with the rest of the team to identify and finalize the census variables for analysis.