U-Turn - Understanding Turning Points in Dryland Ecosystem Functioning

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Context and objectives

Drylands ecosystems are subjected to on-going global change, devastating climate extremes and unsustainable use of natural resources. Indications that some ecosystems have switched to a new state of functioning as a result of these climate and anthropogenic disturbances were found. Yet the understanding and quantification of such abrupt changes (so-called turning points) remains challenging, hampering the development of monitoring, modelling and early warning systems for ecosystem management and prevention of economic or ecological losses. The U-TURN project aims at quantifying and understanding turning points in the functioning of dryland ecosystems. Major focus will be put on disentangling climatic and anthropogenic drivers and the assessment of proxies for early warning of turning points in ecosystem functioning (EF). This will be achieved by combining advanced Earth Observation (EO) techniques with Dynamic Vegetation Models (DVMs).

Project outcome

Expected scientific results

For phase 1 :

  • Improved BFAST algorithm targeting turning point in ecosystem functioning
  • Global scale assessment of turning points in dryland ecosystems functioning
  • Design and tests of the prototype classification algorithm
  • Production of time series of HR LC maps over 2 focus areas
  • Initial parameterization of the ED2 and LPJ-GUESS model for African drylands

Expected products and services

For phase 1 :

  • New code for the improved BFAST algorithm in R-Forge
  • Map of ecosystem change types for global drylands
  • Collection of land cover maps for two focus areas since the early 1980’s
  • Initial version of ED2 and LPJ-Guess for African drylands


  • Scientific community
  • Centre de Suivi Ecologique, Dakar (Senegal)
  • Centre regional AGRHYMET
  • National and regional services in charge of protected semi-arid areas / parks and reserves
  • Sustainable Resources Directorate, Joint Research Centre (EC JRC)
  • Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
  • United Nation Convention for Combating Desertification (UNCCD)
  • United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD)