People


Principal Investigator

Ranjani W. Kulawardhana
Assistant Professor (Environmental Science, Remote Sensing & GIS)

Education

Ph.D., Ecosystem Science and Management (2013), Texas A&M University
M.S., Water Resources Management (2005), Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, Sri Lanka
B.S., Agriculture (2002), University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

Link to CV

Research Interest

I am an ecologist, and a geo-spatial scientist.  I am intrigued by how and why the Earth’s environment, in particular, various ecosystem processes and patterns are arrayed in space and time and what internal and external factors govern them. I am also fascinated by the increased capabilities that remote sensing and GIS data and analytical techniques offer in scientific research to investigate spatial and temporal dimensions of various ecological processes, biotic and abiotic elements involved in them, and linkages between these ecological processes and changing external environments.

My research investigates how coastal wetlands in general, and in particular wetland vegetation, LULC, vegetation productivity and carbon sequestration ability changes over space and time and what factors (i.e. effects of changing environment including rising sea levels and increasing disturbances) govern them. I extensively utilize remote sensing (lidar and passive optical) and GIS data and techniques in these research to evaluate their potential and limitations in scientific research for the study of changing Earths natural and managed ecosystems 


Graduate Student

Eric M. Gulledge  – PhD Candidate  (Environmental Science)
Expected graduation date: December 2017

Dissertation

Characterization of soil carbon distribution in the Grand Bay Natural Estuarine Research Reserve (GB NERR) wetland ecosystems:  Geo-spatial modeling approach


Wetlands including coastal marshes are estimated to retain around 40 percent of the world’s soil organic carbon. Unlike in other terrestrial systems, marsh soils store a large portion of the primary production, which is partly resulting from their greater carbon burial rates. However, the ability of the marsh soils to store carbon varies largely over space and time. Within this background, this study was implemented to evaluate spatial variability of carbon storage ability and associated soil and terrain characteristics of the Juncus roemerianus (Black needlerush) dominated salt marsh soils of coastal Mississippi, USA. Specific objectives are to: 1) Quantify soil carbon storage of the surface soil profile; 2) evaluate spatial patterns in the distribution of soil carbon stocks; and 3) determine effects of soil, terrain, and vegetation characteristics on soil carbon distribution and storage ability. This study focuses on Juncus roemerianus (Black needlerush) dominated wetland vegetation of  the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) of Mississippi, USA.


Graduate Student

Taimei T. Harris  – PhD Candidate  (Environmental Science)
Expected graduation date: December 2017

Dissertation

Spatial patterns, temporal dynamics and carbon sequestration ability of Juncus roemerianus dominated wetland vegetation of Grand Bay NERR: Remote sensing based modeling approach


Coastal wetland ecosystems including salt marshes serve as important carbon sinks. Their role in the terrestrial carbon cycle is often under-estimated, mainly due to the lack of reliable and timely estimates on their carbon stocks. This study was implemented with the goal of evaluating carbon storage ability of Juncus roemerianus (Black needlerush) dominated salt marshes of Mississippi, USA. Specific objectives are to: 1) quantify vegetation biomass and carbon stocks by integrating remotely sensed vegetation estimates with field measurements at varying spatial scales; 2) evaluate spatial variations and temporal dynamics of vegetation characteristics and carbon stocks ; and 3) identify factors affecting spatial variability of vegetation characteristics and carbon stocks of Juncus roemerianus (Black needlerush) dominated wetland vegetation of  the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) of Mississippi, USA.

 


Graduate Student

Ashley Fuentes– MS Student  (Environmental Science)
Expected graduation date: August 2017

Dissertation

Impacts of BP oil spill on heavy metal contamination of Mississippi’s coastal  water

The primary goal of this study is to examine how heavy metal concentrations of coastal waters have been changed over space and time and if they have been affected by the BP oil spill. Specific objectives are to: 1) evaluate spatial patterns and temporal dynamics of heavy metal concentrations in the coastal waters of Mississippi; and 2) investigate potential linkages between heavy metal concentrations and coastal water pollution resulting from BP oil spill. 

 

 


Graduate Student

Jennifer Blanks – MS Student  (Environmental Science)
Expected graduation date: August 2017

Dissertation

Mapping seagrass beds of Pascagoula River Basin using remote sensing

 

The primary goal of this study is to evaluate the Applicability of medium resolution multispectral remote sensing data (Landsat) for detecting and mapping seagrass beds. Specific objectives are to: 1) identify remotely sensed variables (band combinations and indices) using medium resolution remote sensing data (Landsat) that are capable of detecting and mapping sea grass beds; 2) evaluate accuracies of different methods and classification algorithms; and 3) evaluate spatial patterns and extents of the seagrass cover of the Pascagoula River Basin of coastal Mississippi, USA.