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Geographical Science Researchers Help Tackle a Toxic Practice in Thailand

Burning off crop residue in Thailand’s fields contributed to abysmal air quality that shut down schools in Bangkok last week and propelled the city into international headlines, with stories of people “sneezing blood” from the pollution.

Now, with funding from NASA, UMD researchers are collaborating with partners in Thailand on an interdisciplinary project aimed at assessing alternative methods for managing crop residue that would not only help reduce emissions but also improve soil quality.

The research integrates satellite remote sensing, field-scale research, agroecosystem modeling and socioeconomic analysis to understand the emissions from such burning rice stubble to prepare farmland for the next round of crops. The researchers are also evaluating potential economic and environmental impacts of more sustainable crop management.

During a recent visit to Thailand, Associate Research Professor Varaprasad Bandaru and local partners worked with farmers and community leaders in Chaiyaphum Province, collecting information on burning practices and the barriers to implementing more sustainable methods.

“By the end of this project, we expect to be able to provide a standardized framework with which to monitor emissions from crop burning and to offer critical data that will help design subsidies and policies to promote sustainable residue management practices throughout Thailand,” Bandaru said.

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