Case studies > Dr.Keitaro Hara Interview

Interview with Dr.Keitaro Hara
Photo of Hara Dr. Keitaro Hara (Professor of Environmental Informatics)
Faculty of Informatics
Tokyo University of Information Sciences
Q What is the relation between you specialty and remote sensing?
Q My specialty is bionomics and I received my degree from Tohoku University. I moved to Tokyo University of Information Science in 1988. Then, I was thinking to change my research theme from physiognomy to something broader. At that time, the remote sensing image analysis software was just introduced in the university. I was interested in it and took training to use it.
Before that technology, we groveled in the forest to check vegetation. With Landsat TM image we could see the landscape of the entire Chiba pref., as well as changes over years. I thought it was very useful. Then, the geographical information system (GIS) was introduced, too. At that time, there was no one who applied the remote sensing and GIS with the landscape scale in the field of the landscape ecology. I am fortunate to be a pioneer in the field and I am happy that I have continued my research.
Furthermore, from 2000 to 2004, the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture started the project “Academic Frontier,” targeting private universities. There, the research on studying the environment and information in Asia, utilizing received data in MODIS in Tokyo University of Information Science was initiated.
Now, the database of the environmental information, which is based on the research results and data obtained by remote sensing, is published in the website of our university.

Q Please explain how researchers use the remote sensing and GIS in your field of study.
Q In our field of research, we generally conduct detailed research in a forest, so we need high resolution data. Recently, high resolution pictures, SAR, or lidar of an aircraft are available. Though they are still in the infancy, we can apply these technologies not only to landscape ecology but also to the theme for bionomics.
However, we tend to expect too much from remote sensing, that is, “anything is visible with remote sensing.” On the other hand, many experts on remote sensing are specialized in engineering. Therefore, an analysis result is sometimes somewhat different from what is requested practically in respective areas of study. In order for these technologies to be useful, there is a need for experts who can bridge the gap.
Regarding GIS, there is recognition among young researchers that it is impossible to study bionomics without GIS. In bionomics, we deal with spatial locations. We study where and what. GIS is indispensable for this study. Many young researchers do not buy an expensive software, but use free software published on the internet, such as “Min·nade GIS or GRASS. Some researchers can even write their own programs.
The satellite remote sensing may be used as a reference data at present, but there is a possibility to obtain new data or information. I expect that the use of remote sensing will be increased swiftly from now on. Currently, when the space resolution is improved, the time resolution (observation frequency) gets worse. When the observation frequency and space resolution get better as MODIS and QuickBird, respectively, and the price becomes reasonable, it will prevail in the field of bionomics.

Q Last year the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity(COP10) was organized in Nagoya. How do you expect the remote sensing technology to conserve the marine biodiversity?
Q Aichi Target, which was adopted at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) in Nagoya 2010, set 20 individual goals to conserve biodiversity. One of them was to establish protected areas, 17% of the land and 10% of the ocean, by 2020. Now, our task is how to achieve this goal.
The Environment Ministry set up a committee and made up “Japan Biodiversity Outlook” to report to COP10. The result is published in the Environment White Paper 2010. It is the framework of a tentative index to make “Japan Biodiversity Outlook.” Here, the keyword is “Ecosystem Services.” Plainly, it means various services are provided by the ecosystem, which humans benefit. For instance, the ecosystem of a rice paddy field, one of the ecosystem services, has the function of providing rice to us; at the same time, it has other functions to store and purify water in the process of raising the paddy. These functions can be maintained only when humans maintain rice cultivation. If it is abandoned, we lose these functions of ecosystem services. The theme of discussion at COP10 was exactly that only preserving the biodiversity leads to maintaining healthy and sustainable ecosystem services.
Based on that point, I want to come back to the question. The remote sensing has the advantage of monitoring a broad area at once. Moreover, recently, data can be accumulated for long time series, so that we can analyze the changes in the landscape over a 30-year period.
We still cannot observe living things by remote sensing, but can see enough of the changes in the ecosystem which support biodiversity with the landscape scale of the recent technology. When it comes to the marine ecosystem, the coastal area is more sensitive to human activities on land. One case is that coral reef in Okinawa got damaged by red clay. Other example is the tidal flat in Chiba Pref., where biodiversity is greatest in the prefecture, but its most part has unfortunately disappeared except for Sanbanse, and the tidal land of Banshu at the mouth of the Obitsu River. We can see these changes with the data of remote sensing.
From now on, the quantitative assessment of the ecosystem services will be advanced with remote sensing data and GIS. All the more, to set up protected areas, this information will be indispensable.

Q Please explain about the grass-roots activity to conserve biodiversity.
Q I have participated in the civic workshop on the landscape of the nature park in Sakura City, Chiba. A Satoyama area was purchased by the city. First, we wanted to restore the abandoned rice paddy field, but we couldn’t do it because of the Agricultural Land Act that controls the use of agricultural fields. So, we pulled weeds by the root and made a biotope. Here, the number of frogs was decreased to a great degree. However, the number of endangered spices, such as Japan brown frog, Tokyo Daruma Pond Frog (namely black-sported pond frog) has been increased after the environment was restored like the old time. Then, also raptors, falcons or eagles, came back to the place to prey these frogs. One of them, gray-faced buzzards, generally come back to Japan from the southern region in May and laid eggs. If the environment is good, they build a nest. That is, rice paddy fields are managed well and clear enough to see that there are creatures, such as frogs, as prey. This is good environment for raptors. However, when grass grows thick, this environment is not good. Gray-faced buzzards once disappeared from Satoyama in Sakura, but now they came back after people’s restoration activities. This is really wonderful.
In the 20th century, many species became extinct because of the economic growth. Fireflies and killifish are good examples close to us. These creatures used to be very common and familiar. However, recently, children don’t know about fireflies even if they sing a song of a firefly. They have never seen killifish even if they hear the song of Killifish’s School. This is surely the disappearance of culture. The 21st century must be the era when fireflies and killifish come back to the environment. In Satoyama’s nature, frogs, killifish and fireflies will be there. This is what we must do. Our generation knows and can visualize what is good Satoyama of the old time, 1950’s. If you don’t know what Satoyama is, you can’t visualize nor realize it even if you see pictures and read books.
Usually, living organisms such as a mantis or salmon die after reproduction. In contrast, human beings, one of the mammals, will have longer life after having children. The reason is, I think, to hand down a variety of things in the society and culture to the next generation through raising children. It is us, our generation, who knows what Satoyama of the old time is, so we have to fulfill our responsibility to hand down to the next generation. I do not mean to go back to the old times simply, but create a new style that fits the 21st century. Although, it is not easy to look back and do farming with the methods of 30 years ago. In Sakura city, as one example, they still maintain the rice paddy field partially, but also created the biotope, in other space. This is good, I think. By creating such an environment, the ecosystem will be restored, too.
I hope that the research of the landscape ecology with remote sensing and GIS should lead to the improvement of amenity for people who live there, and to the creation of good environmental space in Satoyama where people feel good and comfortable by taking a walk.
(Interview date: February 14, 2011)