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Advanced Spatial Analysis & Remote Sensing Training For faculty at Kabul Polytechnic University, Afghanistan

John Van Hoesen, Green Mountain College

View from the rooftop of the Darya Village Hotel looking southwest towards the Kabul Airport


In July, 2015 I responded to a GISCorps request for volunteers to teach advanced GIS/Remote Sensing at Kabul Polytechnic University (KPU). This request served to support a multi-year initiative managed by Dr. Hussein Abaza at Kennesaw State University, Georgia and supported by a U.S. State Department grant. The goal was to offer professional development and capacity building amongst the KPU faculty to help support their interest in offering an undergraduate degree or certificate in GIS; the first academic program of its kind in Afghanistan.

In the weeks leading up to the deployment, GISCorps facilitated conversations between Dr. Gary Hunter — the other volunteer on this mission — Dr. Abaza, and me. Through these Skye and email-based conversations we were also able to communicate with Dr. Heath Robinson and Stéphane Henriod who taught at KPU during the summer of 2014. This ensured that the curriculum plan we developed had sufficient overlap and continuity and avoided duplication of topics.

Workshop Activities

I arrived in Kabul on July 27th and the first day of training began July 28 and extended through August 3 in the recently renovated and solar-powered GIS lab at KPU. My portion of the training focused on advanced spatial analysis and introductory remote sensing topics. These included: levels of measurement, map algebra, watershed analyses, spatial interpolation, terrain analyses, image classification and extraction, and RS ratios/indices.  Each morning included lectures and short activities to explore the theory and foundations of these topics and the afternoon KPU faculty worked through short labs to practice the concepts and skills.

The emphasis was on applying these topics through the ArcMap interface but we spent one afternoon exploring how to perform similar analyses using QGIS and another afternoon exploring cloud-based queries using CartoDB.

Location of KPU and view to the southeast of nearby community sprawling towards steeper slopes.

View of nearby community and well-maintained grounds of KPU.

KPU faculty working through watershed analyses using the ArcMap Hydrology Tools (Credit: Gary Hunter).

KPU faculty exploring foundations of remote sensing (Credit: Gary Hunter).

This animated GIF demonstrates depicts a normalized difference snow index (NDSI) for the Zorkul region of northeastern Afghanistan and illustrates the type of remote sensing exercise KPU faculty explored.

KPU faculty, Dr. Gary Hunter, Dr. John Van Hoesen and Dr. Hussein Abaza (Credit: Hussein Abaza).


Through numerous conversations with KPU faculty it is clear they are very interested in building their capacity to teach their students more remote sensing skills. While the Image Analyst brought an improved capacity for engaging in remote sensing activities in ArcMap, I do think they would benefit from a RS-specific software package. This might include the more traditional ENVI, IDRISI or ERDAS environments however Orfeo Toolbox — also accessible through QGIS — offers a powerful, open-source alternative to the more expensive options.

I also think increased bandwidth and improved internet speed will allow faculty to include more cloud-based tools (e.g. – Google Earth, CartoDB, Mapbox, etc) in their curriculum. This would likely be a similar capital investment like the installation of solar panels.

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