Latvian Research Scholar, Zigmars Rendenieks, spent his J-1 experience as a member of the SILVIS lab at the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The title of his research was Remote sensing data and techniques for land cover change detection and analysis in Latvia. “Forest area has doubled since the mid-1920’s,” says Zigmars, “and landscape patterns have changed considerably due to political and economic shifts. Widespread natural reforestation of abandoned agricultural lands has in particular changed landscapes throughout Latvia. Unfortunately, there is a gap in knowledge about land cover dynamics during Soviet occupation from 1945 to 1991. My goal is to study land cover change during the Soviet occupation of Latvia in order to be able to predict future dynamics of forests recently formed on abandoned agricultural lands.” Zigmars worked under the supervision and mentorship of Professor Volker Radeloff, of whom Zigmar says “his advice in both science and life was invaluable during my stay in the US”. In addition to his research, Zigmar was able to network with other professionals and stay abreast the latest research by attending two conferences, the NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change Scientific Team meeting as well as the Ecological Society of America Annual meeting.
Outside of the lab, Zigmars remained active in Madison by honing his gardening skills at the community gardens, by taking part in local social events, by sharing cultural experiences (music, cuisine), and by going on field trips with undergraduate students. He felt his greatest professional achievement here in the US was the “valuable skills in remote sensing and image processing” that he gained. Yet at a personal level, “I learned how to grow my own garden produce”.
Zigmars shares his future agenda now back in Latvia: “I plan to resume my position as Researcher at the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Latvia. This entails both working in research projects and part-time teaching.”
His advice to future interns and Research Scholars: “Engage in all kinds of activities, especially outside your professional field! Do not be afraid to approach distinguished experts in your field and ask questions. Get to know your local community and also share your culture and find new friends.”