Repetition photos demonstrate changes across southern African landscapes

Every country in the world has a past. To fully comprehend its history in the present, you require some understanding of the history. The earth’s history can be traced through its rocks, and the history of life is based on the evolutionary history and connections of the species. What is the story of contemporary landscapes and the numerous benefits that we reap from them, including food and water? What is their past, and what are the ways they’re changing due to the extreme environmental pressures that they are facing from climate change as well as the demands of people?

Photographs of historic landscapes provide one method of measuring this. They record the way things were at a particular moment in time. When standing in the same spot and then re-photographing the same scene, it’s possible to capture the nature of changes. Sometimes, researchers can measure the magnitude and speed of change for various aspects of the landscape.

The reasons for this change could be seen from this information and other historical records such as the record of fires or climate. These data can be correlated to the report written about environmental change by using other methods and models. Researchers can assess whether the environment is at the threshold of criticality and decide what to do to address the changes.

This is exactly what repetition photography is all about.

A rapidly growing field

The practice of repeat photography has been employed to record changes in the vegetation of Africa since the 1950s, and over the past 30 years, there has been a surge of interest. The technique is currently utilized in various regions of the world. It has been used in several important projects in the drylands of North America, in Ethiopia’s highlands, as well as across the Southern African region.

Photographs of historic landscapes are compared with contemporary pictures. They are used to study the changes in glaciers of the alpine as well as soil erosion and hydrology and plant life, such as shifts in the numbers of desert succulents that live long and Savanna trees.

Read more: Eyes in the Sky and on the Ground are Helping Forest Conservation in Cameroon.

Repeat photography is increasingly being seen as an important tool for monitoring the impact of climate change on vulnerable species and threatened ecosystems.

Photographer Jacques Leclercq first took a scene located in Venterskroon in South Africa’s North West province in 1919 (left) and then re-photographed the following year (right). I. B. Pole Evans (1919); Reprinted through L. de Speville (2017)/Images copyright of photos in a CC BY-NC 4.0 Creative Commons license.

Our research on southern Africa has resulted in over 22,000 photos of repeats from all important biomes within the region. In the most recent synthesis of our work, we have provided a realistic analysis of the effects of climate change and land use changes on the African subcontinent. Contrary to what we expected, we observed that the biomass and vegetation cover have been increasing in most places due to changes in the land use climate, CO2, and land use.

The accumulation of these many thousands of photographs that were repeated was the culmination of many research projects conducted by a variety of researchers over many years. A more comprehensive understanding of the evolutions that have occurred in the southern African landscapes by repetition photography will require a huge amount of budget for travel and, of course, an amount of time that we don’t have. This is the place where citizen science comes into play.

Citizen science

The photos project was first announced in August 2015. The aim is to get those who are interested in re-photographing old sites. This is a great way to gain two benefits. In the first, they increase the number of repeat images. The second is that public perception of the changing landscape is raised.

The website for the project includes more than 6,000 historical images from ten primary archives of the southern African landscapes that date to the latter half of 1800 through the beginning of 2000. The interests of original photographers heavily influence the geographical distribution of photos. Many times, these photographs have been donated to the cause by relatives or by institutions where the actual photographers were a part of – or even from the photographers themselves.

On the site, photos are spatially referenced to quadruple-degree squares (QDS, which measure approximately 28×25 km in size) to help narrow down the locations that could be associated with photographs from the past. Photographers can browse images from the color-coded QDSes and download high-resolution images for printing along with field data sheets in which metadata can be stored. After reusing the image, users need to sign up for the project and upload their photos to the site. There are also live Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook pages.

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