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Investigating UXO in South East Asia – an exciting trip for Philipp

Philipp at the Mine Action Visitor Center in Quang Tri province

In autumn 2023 SENSE student Philipp Barthelme travelled to Southeast Asia as part of his research on the long-term impacts of the Vietnam War. Here Philipp reports on his visit:

For many people my age the Vietnam War seems like a conflict from a different time. However, for millions of people in Southeast Asia, the effects of the war are still very real today. During the Vietnam War, more bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR than during the entire Second World War. As a result, about 20% of the land in these countries remains contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO).

As part of my research, I have been looking at historical U.S. satellite images, taken during and immediately after the war. These high resolution (0.6 – 1.2m) images, which have recently been declassified, clearly show the destruction caused by the bombing and herbicide spraying. My research so far has focused on automatically detecting bomb craters in the imagery which could help to better understand the remaining contamination with UXO in Southeast Asia.

View onto the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi

During my trip I presented my research to mine action stakeholders in Vietnam and Lao PDR, as well as researchers at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology. A particular highlight of the trip was my visit to Quang Tri province, the most heavily contaminated province in Vietnam. While there, I learned a lot about the important work of the Quang Tri Mine Action Center (QTMAC) and the many NGOs who are working hard to clear Quang Tri from UXO.

Overall, this trip was a great experience and without a doubt my favourite part of the PhD so far. While satellites are a great tool to look at a place from afar, they can’t quite replace seeing a place with your own eyes. And they definitely can’t replace experiencing the hospitality and eating the delicious food in Southeast Asia. A huge thank you to everyone who supported the trip and to all the people I met. I hope to return soon!

Fried spring rolls (nem rán) and crispy Vietnamese pancakes (bánh xèo)

Philipp is a student at the University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences and is supervised by Dr Gary Watmough. His project is entitled Impact of humanitarian mine clearances on tropical forest carbon storage and is supported by his CASE partner The Conflict and Environment Observatory.