Researchers looking at climate change, culture to predict land abandonment in Russia

June 23, 2009

Blacksburg, Va. -- Kirsten de Beurs, an assistant geography professor in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources, has received a NASA grant to direct a large international land abandonment study in Russia with Grigory Ioffe of Radford University, Geoffrey Henebry of South Dakota State University, and in-country collaborator Tatyana Nefedova.

The study will incorporate population trends, cultural factors, and climate change in predicting land abandonment patterns.

The purpose of the study is to determine which lands are most likely to be abandoned in the future. One of the major contributors to land abandonment in Russia is a combination of land that is unsuited for agriculture and sites that are too far from urban areas.

Russia's shrinking population, especially within rural communities, is associated with ethnicity, another key factor in the land abandonment issue. The study will look at why certain ethnic groups are decreasing more rapidly than others, and why some groups are not shrinking at all. "The most innovative aspect of this proposed research is the inclusion of ethnic groups' population dynamics as a component of the system," says de Beurs.

The study, which will begin in August 2009, is expected to run for three years. Researchers will visit predetermined regions of Russia in the summer of 2010 and 2011 to update existing socio-demographic data and validate the agricultural state of the land surfaces, and will use NASA satellite images to target where land abandonment is taking place.

At the completion of the project, researchers will develop a model of land abandonment and re-colonization that incorporates local population dynamics and cultural factors to predict potential future abandonment patterns based on climate change. The model will also examine how adaptive strategies could affect rural re-colonization and re-cultivation, and will include current and future land abandonment maps for Russia.
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De Beurs received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, and her doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Read the project abstract: "Land Abandonment in Russia: Understanding Recent Trends and Assessing Future Vulnerability and Adaptation to Changing Climate and Population Dynamics" http://www.geography.vt.edu/PEOPLE/KirstenNASAAbstract.pdf

Virginia Tech

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