Remote sensing of ecosystem services on Balkan rivers

Remote sensing of ecosystem services on Balkan rivers

Remote sensing of ecosystem services on Balkan rivers

Supervised by: Ana Stritih (ETH Zurich)

Performed as: Master thesis 

Duration: 6 months (can be discussed, depending on study programme), ideally starting in May/June or September 2020


The Balkan Peninsula is home to many of the last free-flowing rivers in Europe. These rivers are hotspots of biodiversity, but also provide a variety of ecosystem services for locals and a wider society. They are an essential part of the life and identity of local communities, and attract visitors from abroad for their  recreation opportunities and beautiful landscapes. Currently, many of these rivers are under threat due to the planned construction of more than 3000 dams in the region. The ecosystem services provided by these rivers, such as habitats for rare species, places for recreation, and landscape beauty, are generally not taken into account in decisions regarding hydropower development. In this thesis, you will map the state of river landscapes (in particular, their hydromorphological features) in the Balkans using remote sensing (e.g. Sentinel satellite data) and ground-truth data from a citizen science campaign that will take place on the Sava river and its tributaries in May 2020. Based on existing knowledge (from literature, experts, and citizen science), you will link the landscape and hydromorphological features to a set of ecosystem services that they support. This will result in a map of the current state of river ecosystem service provision, while the developed methodology can also be used to monitor the development of ecosystem services as these river systems undergo change. 


  1. Develop a methodology that can be used to assess and monitor the ecosystem services provided by rivers in the Balkans from remote sensing data
    1. Map hydromorphological features of Balkan rivers from remote sensing data, using ground-truth data from citizen science
    2. Link hydromorphological features to ecosystem service provision in order to map the current state of river ecosystem services in the Balkans  


  • Background in environmental science, geography, landscape ecology, or similar
  • Knowledge of GIS (e.g. ArcGIS or QGIS) and statistical programming (e.g. R, python, matlab)
  • Knowledge of a local language (e.g. Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian) and kayaking experience are an advantage. 

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