EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Using Earth Observations to engender a social-ecological systems perspective on rural livelihoods and wellbeing.

Peter Hargreaves and Gary Watmough
Peter Hargreaves and Gary Watmough
  • University of Edinburgh, Global Change Research Institute, School of Geosciences, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (

An estimated 70% of the world’s poorest people live in rural spaces. There is a consistent differentiation between rural and urban contexts, where the former are typically characterised by weak infrastructure, limited services and social marginalisation. At the same time, the world’s poorest people are most vulnerable to global change impacts. Historic pathways to measuring and achieving poverty reduction must be adapted for an era of increasingly dynamic change, where spatio-temporal blind spots preclude a comprehensive understanding of poverty and its manifestation in rural developing contexts. To catalyse an effective poverty eradication narrative, we require a characterisation of the spatio-temporal anatomy of poverty metrics. To achieve this, researchers and practitioners must develop tools and mobilise data sources that enable the detection and visualisation of economic and social dimensions of rural spaces at finer temporal and spatial scales than is currently practised. This can only be realised by integrating new technologies and non-traditional sources of data alongside conventional data to engender a novel policy landscape.

Cue Earth Observation: the only medium through which data can be gathered that is global in its coverage but also available across multiple temporal and spatial scales. Earth Observation (EO) data (collected from satellite, airborne and in-situ remote sensors) have a demonstrable capacity to inform, update, situate and provide the necessary context to design evidence-based policy for sustainable development. This is particularly important for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because the nested indicators are based on data that can be visualised, and many have a definitive geospatial component, which can improve national statistics reporting.

In this review, we present a rubric for integrating EO and geospatial data into rural poverty analysis. This aims to provide a foundation from which researchers at the interface of social-ecological systems can unlock new capabilities for measuring economic, environmental and social conditions at the requisite scales and frequency for poverty reporting and also for broader livelihoods and development research.  We review satellite applications and explore the development of EO methodologies for investigating social-ecological conditions as indirect proxies of rural wellbeing. This is nested within the broader sustainable development agenda (in particular the SDGs) and aims to set out what our capabilities are and where research should be focused in the near-term. In short, elucidating to a broad audience what the integration of EO can achieve and how developing social-ecological metrics from EO data can improve evidence-based policymaking.

Key words: Earth Observation; Poverty; Livelihoods; Sustainable Development Goals; Remote Sensing

How to cite: Hargreaves, P. and Watmough, G.: Using Earth Observations to engender a social-ecological systems perspective on rural livelihoods and wellbeing., EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-11222,, 2020

This abstract will not be presented.