Summer Reflection & Wetland Evaluation

By Jasmine Qin on September 5, 2019

Jasmine is a Masters student studying design, engineering, and management at MIT. She interned with Upstream Tech this summer with a focus on exploring new opportunities in applying remote sensing and data science to assess wetland conditions. To learn more about Upstream Tech’s growing portfolio of work to help organizations manage and monitor wetlands, check out our website. And thanks to the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative for supporting her internship.

I’ve been fortunate to travel through some of the most amazing waterways across the globe — from the Yangtze River in China to the flooded forests in the Amazon Basin. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve witnessed the competition between human development and the health of wetlands and water systems — and become convinced about the promise of technology innovation to help find balance between the two.

Belgrade Lakes
Belgrade Lakes
Belgrade Lakes, Maine. 2011. Jasmine Qin.

While I was a student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and later as a researcher at the World Resources Institute, I dove into the universe of satellite technology and was amazed by how it has transformed the way we observe and interact with the planet we inhabit. As a current design, engineering, and management student at MIT, I was excited to join Upstream Tech this summer to explore how we could tap into technological advancements in remote sensing, data science, and spatial analytical tools as well as harness the power of human-centered design to empower government agencies, civil society, land trusts, and businesses to better protect and manage wetlands. But first, let’s explore why these ecosystems are so important.

Wetlands are complex, vulnerable ecosystems that are invaluable in today’s changing climate. From mangroves to bogs, wetlands are areas where water covers the soil for at least part of the year. Wetlands are diverse, complex, and dynamic systems that are vital to human and non-human species alike. Among the most productive ecosystems in the world, wetlands are home to an immense variety of species. We also depend on wetlands for a wealth of natural products, from fish and shellfish to timber, as well as opportunities for recreation. Wetlands are essential in purifying water, retaining flood waters, controlling shoreline erosion, as well as regulating climate. However, an estimated 30% of natural wetlands have been lost globally since 1970. Today, wetlands continue to face threats from agricultural and urban expansion, transportation and energy infrastructure, pollution, invasive species, and more. As climate change accelerates, there is great need to pres
erve and
restore
wetlands to protectour safety and welfare. So what is currently being done and what more is ne ded? **Wetla

nd monitoring is key in protecting and restoring these declining e osystems— but it isn’t currently cheap or e sy.** Consistent, timely, and thorough wetland monitoring is key for states t o better manage and protect theirwetland reso urces. The Enviro mental Pro tection Agenc ’s National Wetlands MonitoringWorkgroup supports a [three-level approach](https:// www.epa.gov/wetlands/wetl nds-monitoring-and-assessment) to wetland monitori different tiers of granularit in assessing wetland functions and extent.Acco rding to the most recent [Sta us and Trends Report on State Wetland Progr in the United States](https://www.a swm.org/pdf_lib/st ate_summaries/status_and_trends report_on_state_wetland_programs_in_the_un wetland monitoring and assessment programs have been established in 14 states, while nine others have programs in development, as shown in the map below. Often limited by resources, capacity, and staff time, government agencies and other entities often find it difficult to capture reliable and up-to-date information in a scalable way. At Upstream Tech, we believe we can help: leveraging satellites to consistently capture data on wetland conditions.

Status of wetland monitoring and assessment (M&A) program among
states
Status of wetland monitoring and assessment (M&A) program among states
Status of wetland monitoring and assessment (M&A) program among states from ASWM 2015 Remote sensing, data science, and spatial analytical tools can help improve monitoring, planning, and investment for wetland protection and restoration. The rapid advancement of remote sensing technology, proliferation of geospatial

revolutionize wetland management. With efficient, accessible, and cost-effective monitoring tools, changes in wetland conditions can be tracked more easily than ever before. Monitoring wetland health is crucial to ensure the efforts of wetland protection and restoration investments pay off.

Upstream Tech has been working with a wide range of partners on a range of wetland applications, including:

  • Lens for mitigation banks and conservation organizations to monitor compliance and document ecological changes
  • Evaluation of meadow and upland ecosystems to measure increased groundwater recharge from restoration
  • Quantification of avoided land loss and restoration success in coastal ecosystems in the Mississippi River Delta
  • Automated, up-to-date mapping of wetland and riparian buffers in agricultural regions to improve water quality in the Great Plains

As climate change continues to put pressure on coastal and freshwater wetlands, we’re committed to continuing to find ways to find ways for technology to support critical wetlands work. If you have ideas or questions, please get in touch!