University of Richmond Geography Professor Stephanie Spera Awarded NASA Grant For Research in Brazil’s Cerrado Frontier

Project Will Examine Land Changes in Region Supporting 5% of the World’s Biodiversity
February 7, 2023

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — Stephanie Spera, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of Richmond, has received grant support from NASA for research focusing on the Cerrado frontier, a vast ecoregion of tropical savanna in eastern Brazil. 

The Land Cover/Land Use Change grant supports a joint research project in collaboration with the University of Vermont. The research aims to identify and quantify land-cover and land-use changes in the Cerrado, South America’s 2-million-kilometer savanna, which supports 5% of the world's biodiversity. The Cerrado is the second largest, after the Amazonian rainforest, of Brazil's major habitat types and accounts for about 20% percent of the country's land area.

Spera, an expert on climate change and land use, will coordinate the satellite-based mapping of agricultural land-use in this area and will assist in analyzing the data to better understand the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of land-cover changes. 

"We plan to use open-source software and map specific agricultural land-covers and determine land-use transitions across this under-protected biodiversity hotspot,” said Spera. “Understanding these land-related changes in the Cerrado and the socioenvironmental drivers of those changes is fundamental when thinking about sustainable agriculture development in South America’s breadbasket.”

Spera, who has worked at UR since 2019, previously received funding from NASA for a three-year project related to the effects of forest cover changes in the southwestern Amazon. She recently received the VFIC Excellence in Instructional Technology Award, and her research has also been supported by the National Parks Service. She was also selected as one of 40 scientists to participate in the 2022 Voices for Science cohort.