Modeling Regime Shifts in the Logone floodplain (MORSL)

We received funding from the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program for our project CNH Exploring social, ecological, and hydrological regime shifts in the Logone Floodplain, Cameroon. Mark Moritz (PI), Michael Durand, Ian Hamilton, Bryan Mark, Ningchuan Xiao (BCS-1211986). Here is a link to the press release of the CNH program with information about this year's awardees.

Project Summary

This interdisciplinary research project will focus on the impact of human activities and climate change on African floodplains. African floodplains are an excellent example of coupled human-natural systems because they exhibit strong interactions among multiple social, ecological, and hydrological systems. The intra-annual and inter-annual variations in the area, depth, and duration of seasonal flooding have direct and indirect impacts on ecosystems and human lives and livelihoods. We will develop an integrated computer model that simulates the dynamic couplings among social, ecological and hydrological systems of the Logone floodplain in Cameroon. The model will allow us to simulate the impacts of climate change scenarios and human modifications of the landscape on the social, ecological, and hydrological systems. Fishermen in the Logone floodplain have been modifying the floodplain's hydrology by constructing thousands of individually owned fish canals. The cumulative effect of these canals may equal the impact of large-scale dams.

The devastating impact of large-scale dams on African floodplains has been well documented, but what is less clear is how smaller, slower changes like the fish canals may result in regime shifts that have equally disastrous consequences. If the floodplain is characterized by critical transitions, the gradual increase in fish canals may result in a sudden and catastrophic transition equivalent to the impact of large-scale dams. The integrated computer model will enable researchers to examine the nature of the regime shift. The project brings together a team of researchers from a broad range of disciplines and will use a transdisciplinary approach to investigate coupled human and natural systems using a combination of field research, remote sensing analysis, and modeling.

The project will contribute to the sustainable management of African floodplains, which are of enormous ecological and economic importance, by developing an integrated computer model that will permit stakeholders to evaluate the impact of different human activities and climate change scenarios. The project will educate and train graduate and undergraduate students at the Ohio State University and at Maroua University in Cameroon in quantitative and qualitative, transdisciplinary approaches to the study and management of coupled human and natural systems. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program and the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Sarah Laborde

Sarah Laborde has joined the MORSL lab as our new post-doctoral researcher. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with an interest in the complex and dynamic interconnections between people and aquatic ecosystems. With a background in geology and water resources engineering, she completed a PhD at the University of Western Australia in 2012 with joint affiliations in environmental engineering and cultural anthropology. Her doctoral research focused on the interactions between hydrological regimes and sociocultural understandings and practices in the Lake Como basin in Italy. As a MORSL-postdoctoral fellow, she will be working with us on an interdisciplinary project that aims to model the Logone floodplain in northern Cameroon as a complex social-ecological system. Her key focus will be on the cultural and socioeconomic dimensions of fishing practices in the floodplain, and their links and possible feedbacks with other processes of the social-ecological system (political, hydrological, ecological).

Sui Phang

Sui Phang recently joined our MORSL laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher. He will be working with Ian Hamilton on studying and modeling the fish populations in the Logone Floodplain. His primary field of research is to improve understanding of natural and anthropogenic perturbations and feedbacks on living resources for better management. He is particularly interested in improving the management of socio-economically important fish stocks by using new and more robust population models. For his doctoral research at Bournemouth University in the UK, he developed an individual-based model of salmonids in the River Frome chalk stream in southern England to assess current and advise future conservation and recreational fishing management. His future aims are to first understand the nature of social elements in fishery management and appreciate their important interactions in decisions and program effectiveness to develop site-specific fishery management programmes that account for both social and natural elements.

Alfonso Fernández

Alfonso Fernández is a Physical Geographer with interests in hydroclimatic sciences. He obtained a Bachelor in Geography at the Universidad de Chile, and a Masters in Sciences (Freshwater resources) at the Universidad Austral de Chile. He completed his Ph.D. in Geography at the Ohio State University (2014). Alfonso's doctoral research examined glacier-climate interactions in South America, using climatic observations and (glaciologic and climatic) numerical modeling. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the Universidad de Concepción in Chile. When he was a MORSL-postdoctoral fellow, he analyzed available climatic observations in the Logone floodplain and its surroundings, as well as performed hydroclimatic modeling using IPCC projections.

Asmita Murumkar

asmita MurumkarAsmita Murumkar has recently joined the MORSL lab. She completed her PhD in Hydrology at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, India in 2015. She is working with hydro-climatology group of the MORSL lab focusing on spatio-temporal variability of hydro-meteorological data of the Logone river basin in a changing climate. Her objective of the study is to analyze the past and future climate of the basin considering the SRES (Special Report on Emissions Scenarios) and RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) scenarios.  

Graduate Researchers

Apoorva Shastry

Apoorva ShastryApoorva Shastry has a Master's in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. I am currently pursuing a PhD working under Dr. Michael Durand, with an interest in flood modeling and satellite hydrology. For the MORSL project, I am working on modeling the hydraulics and hydrology of the Logone floodplain, which is essential for understanding the dynamics of the floodplain. Currently, two pilot areas of the Logone floodplain are being used to study how the small-scale, local features like canals govern the flow, so that it can be incorporated in a large-scale model of the floodplain.

Undergraduate Researchers

Brandon Mohr

Brandon MohrBrandon Mohr is an undergraduate student studying International Studies and History. As an assistant for the MORSL lab, he analyzes how remote sensing imagery can be used as a viable alternative for conducting research in regions that are either inaccessible or difficult for conducting fieldwork. Brandon has employed remote sensing to identify topographic depressions that are used by fishers on the Logone floodplain. He has also begun using similar methods in order to map vegetation species across the study area for future modeling.


Nathaniel Henry

Nathaniel HenryNathaniel Henry is an alumnus of the lab who graduated in 2016. He worked as an undergraduate researcher with the MORSL lab since October 2014. He majored in Geographic Information Science and Urban, Regional, and Global Studies, with minors in Economics and Chinese. For his honors thesis, Nathaniel analyzed Boko Haram’s long-term social and economic impact on the Logone Floodplain. By combining existing understandings of the floodplain with new interview and survey data, this study examined how fishing households adapt to dramatic changes in commodity prices for fish.

Cameroonian Collaborators


Roland Ziebe

Roland ZiebeRoland Ziebe is a lecturer and researcher at the High Institute of the Sahel (ISS) at the University of Maroua, Cameroon. He has been involved in the MORSL project since its inception. He is veterinarian with expertise in Tropical Animal Health, Animal Production and Fishery Management. He defended his MA thesis on the management of pastoral resources and conflict issues in northern Cameroon at Antwerp University in Belgium and recently his Ph.D. thesis on fisheries resources and conflicts between fishermen in the Waza Logone Floodplain Cameroon at Leiden University in the Netherlands. His research activities include livestock system analysis, use of veterinary drugs, intensification of animal production, fishery resources and management. He is also implicated in various development projects related to the improvement of livestock productivity, food security and conflict management. As MORSL member, Roland is in charge of field activities, particularly the studies of the fishery system. 

Mouadjamou Ahmadou

Mouadjamou AhmadouMouadjamou Ahmadou is a visual anthropologist at the University of Maroua in Cameroon. He is currently working on his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Tromso in Norway. He has made numerous films, including two that focus on pastoralism, in collaboration with Mark Moritz and the Center for Support of Research and Pastoralism (CARPA), based in Maroua. The films are Nomads under Pressure and One Year, Two Plains. As a MORSL member, Mouadjamou is studying the fisher and herder populations in the floodplain. 

Paul Scholte

Paul Scholte.Paul scholte is an ecologist leading programs and organizations in conservation and NRM in a development context (Africa, Arabia). For 27 years he has been employed by governmental- (Rwandan, Dutch, German), non-governmental (IUCN, WWF), UN- and private consulting organizations. He is currently working on forest policy issues and protected area management in Central Africa. Based in Yaounde, Cameroon, and also works with the MORSL team on issues of vegetation and pastoral ecology in the Logone floodplain, the subject of his research in the 1990s.

Cameroonian Research Team

In Cameroon we are collaborating with Roland Ziebe and Mouazamou Ahmadou, faculty at Maroua University, and with the research team of Centre d’Appui a la Recherche et au Pastoralisme (CARPA) in Maroua, Cameroon. Pictured here are, from left to right, Sui, Limane, Amos, Alhadji, Sali, Adam, Sarah, Saidou, Roland, and Bruno during a workshop in Ngaoundere. 


Sarah Laborde, Alfonso Fernandez, Sui Chian Phang, Ian M. Hamilton, Nathaniel Henry, Hahn Chul Jung, Aboukar Mahamat, Mouazamou Ahmadou, Bruno Labara, Saidou Kari, Michael Durand, Bryan Mark, Ningchuan Xiao, Roland Ziebe and Mark Moritz. 2016. Social-ecological feedbacks lead to unsustainable lock-in in an inland fishery. Global Environmental Change, 41 (November 2016):13-25.
Alfonso Fernández, Mohammad Reza Najafi, Michael Durand, Bryan G. Mark, Mark Moritz, Jeffrey Neal, Apoorva Shastry, Sarah Laborde, Sui Chang Phang, Ian M. Hamilton, and Ningchuan Xiao, 2016. Testing the skill of numerical hydraulic modeling to simulate spatiotemporal flooding patterns in the Logone floodplain, Cameroon. Journal of Hydrology, 539(2016):265-280. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2016.05.026.
Mark Moritz, Sarah Laborde, Sui Chian Phang, Mouazamou Ahmadou, Michael Durand, Alfonso Fernandez, Ian M. Hamilton, Saïdou Kari, Bryan Mark, Paul Scholte, Ningchuan Xiao, Roland Ziebe. 2016. Studying the Logone floodplain, Cameroon as a Coupled Human and Natural System. African Journal of Aquatic Sciences, 41(1):99-108. 10.2989/16085914.2016.1143799


Sui Phang presented the MORSL project at the Global Conference On Inland Fisheries held at the FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy 26-28 January 2015. The presentation A dam by a thousand canals: Modelling Regime Shifts in the Logone (MORSL) can be downloaded  here.



AAG poster thumbnail.Alfonso Fernandez presented the MORSL project at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), April 21-25, 2015. The poster Investigating DEM noise reduction and resolution in flood modeling: A case study based on the Logone Floodplain, Cameroon can be downloaded  here.


poster Brandon MohrBrandon Mohr presented the findings of his study of depressions in the Logone Floodplain at the Fall Student Poster Forum, September 17, 2015. The poster The relationship between fishing canals and topographic depressions in a Sahelian Floodplain can be downloaded  here.