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Uganda landscape.

Research projects

The Mapping: Culture and GIScience (MCGIS) research group seeks to facilitate research at the interface between technical, scientific and critical perspectives on mapping technologies.

This research will include:

  • Developing the use of geospatial analysis in multi-disciplinary teams to instigate more sustainable outcomes of human-environment interactions, with on-going exploration of with urban air pollution, climate adaptation and urban ecosystem services.
  • Exploring the representation of vague geographical entities in GIS, new approaches to participatory mapping, and the application of new technologies to geographical data collection.
  • Unpacking the changing affordances and social contexts of map deployment with critical, playful and ethnographic approaches.
  • Investigating the novel use of Earth observation data across a range of temporal and spatial scales, from the collection of laboratory and in situ field spectroscopy data to the analysis of airborne and satellite imagery.
  • Researching the historical relationships between digital technologies and the production of space by mapping software spaces and software in space, surveillance and securitisation and personal data shadows in everyday mobilities.
  • Investigating disruptions in the flow of cartographic reason by focusing on the indeterminacies of mobile mapping practices and other digital geographies.

Current research (selected examples)

Belfast Mobility Project (BMP)

The Belfast Mobility Project (BMP) is a multi-disciplinary group dedicated to understanding the nuanced spatio-temporal patterns of segregation and sharing in North Belfast.

The BMP used a unique, mixed-methods approach to describing and explaining patterns of activity space segregation in the historically divided city of Belfast, including:

  • GPS tracking allied with GIS methods of data capture, analysis and representation
  • walking interviews
  • a large-scale questionnaire survey
  • participatory GIS, using the Map-Me platform

Most research on urban segregation has focused on global patterns of residential division captured at a single moment in time, often using government census data about where people live in cities. The BMP examined how segregation may arise through the patterning of everyday movements and use of activity spaces beyond the home and over time.

As might be expected, this map shows a great deal of activity segregation between the residential areas that are occupied by Catholic and Protestant communities, though wholesale mixing can be seen on main roads and in consumption-driven non-place locations. 

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This initiative aims to both further develop existing research and initiate new research opportunities through the installation of a 'smart city' network in Kampala, Uganda, in order to produce data to help examine green infrastructure benefits within the Kampala metropolitan area.

Kampala is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa. Urban growth in Kampala and in the wider Global South has been characterised by rapid transformations of the natural environment in order to accommodate a rapidly growing human population. Accordingly, it is often the case that city planners are unable to cope with the rapid and spontaneous developments, meaning that considerations such as environmental quality and ecosystem services are overlooked, at the expense of the health and wellbeing of its citizens.

The study expands on an ongoing PhD project based in the Department of Geography at The University of Manchester (funded by the Commonwealth and the IPCC) that examines intra-city climatic differences and the vegetation development processes linked to those local climatic differences in Kampala. Here, ecosystem service provision is inferred from intra-city local climatic differences and the resulting differences in cycles of vegetation development.

The project is being undertaken with collaboration from other institutions in Uganda that include Kampala Capital City Authority (City Council), Makerere University, two secondary schools and four primary schools, with the capacity to build this network further. This will provide a foundation for responding to global challenges and the GCRF. It will test proof of concept for wider application, and joining with other activities around green infrastructure and smart cities. The work will be partly exploratory, considering the wider potential of this technology. Outputs will include a website documenting the project and the data obtained through the network. Proposed activities

This PhD project has already established 23 sensor sites that are used to monitor air temperature, relative humidity, and mean radiant temperature (thermal stress) and soil moisture (at nine of the sites) across Kampala. This funding will permit the installation of a LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) in order to explore its feasibility as the basis of 'Internet of Things' (IoT) real-time communication between the existing sites, as well allow exploration into the potential for new, high-density IoT networked sensor stations (nodes) throughout the city. LoRaWAN is an example of a LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network), and permits sensors (nodes) to communicate over long distances using low power (i.e. coin-cell battery powered) radio networking technologies.

Such a network permits cheap and efficient real-time data collection from a dense constellation of sensors, which are able to 'stream' data to one or more 'gateways', which provide Internet 'backhaul' so that the data may be processed, stored and/or analysed in real time. Such systems therefore remove the requirement for expensive and often impractical 'traditional' networking solutions, such as Wi-Fi connectivity, SIM cards or Ethernet cables, dramatically reducing the hardware and operating costs of dense sensor networks. The network could also be opened up as an ‘Open Network’ through organisations such as The Things Network, permitting others in the Kampala to take advantage of low-cost, low power communications for a variety of applications. This would represent only the second such Open Network in Africa, and the first in Uganda. Therefore we anticipate considerable interest from existing partners and those new to the research.

Major Limb Loss (MLL) in Northern Uganda

Understanding and mitigating post-conflict Major Limb Loss (MLL) in the Acholi sub-region of Northern Uganda.

This is an MRC-funded project in Northern Uganda, which seeks to understand the prevalence of post-conflict Major Limb Loss (MLL) in the Acholi Sub-Region of Northern Uganda. The Acholi sub-region is a fertile but impoverished region with a population of approximately 1.5 million people and a land area of approximately 28,000km2. The small town centres and the surrounding remote villages were badly affected by a prolonged civil war (1986-2006), which has left people of all ages suffering from poverty, malnutrition, disease, mutilation and Major Limb Loss (MLL) related to gunshot wounds, mines and punishment amputations. Unfortunately, the majority of victims in this region have no access to health or rehabilitation services and the level of requirement for those services is currently unknown.

This project seeks to provide the first systematic study of the prevalence of these injuries, as well as the installation of an orthopaedic workshop in the town of Gulu, the construction of a mobile orthopaedic clinic, and the initial provision of 50 prosthetic limbs using an outreach service delivery model. Further funds are currently being sought to fit limbs to thousands of more victims, as well as address numerous other endemic post-conflict health issues that we have encountered in this region.

Because there are no detailed maps of the region, part of the task has been to map the region in order that the prevalence study might be able to take place effectively. This extensive and ongoing mapping exercise involves a combination of on-the-ground surveying, crowdsourced digitising through the organisation of 'mapathons' (using the #Huckathon website), and the development of novel remote sensing approaches (based upon 'deep learning' and 'computer vision' techniques) in order to be able to automatically detect the huts in which much of the population live using high-resolution satellite imagery.

Jonny Huck won The University of Manchester 2018 Social Responsibility Award for 'Outstanding Contribution to Social Innovation' for the mapathon activity and the associated 'Huckathon' software, and has released a series of freely available map sheets for North Uganda, which were recently used in order to install Mobile Data connections for all of the health centres and schools in the region.