33 projects have been selected out of 108 project applications submitted for the 2022 competition of research grants for young scientists announced by Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia. One of them was the project of Lasha Asanidze, senior researcher of TSU Vakhushti Bagrationi Institute of Geography, Academic Doctor of Geography – “Photogrammetry of the Platform Karst of Georgia.” Within the framework of the project, it is planned to carry out the photogrammetric planning of the karst relief on the Zemo Imereti structural plateau, where there is a diverse surface and underground karst landscape.
From this point of view, Georgia is one of the outstanding countries in the world, where karst and pseudo-karst processes are developed on almost 18% of its total territory. Karst is a type of landscape that is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks (such as limestone, dolomite, gypsum, etc.). The main role in the karst process is played by the chemical solubility and erosion of the host rocks. Along with the opening of the rocks, their mechanical washing takes place, resulting in the formation of surface and underground karst forms, including potholes, chasms, caves, etc. Pseudo-karst processes are similar to karst processes, but they develop as a result of physical rather than chemical (opening) processes.
“We believe that the research is relevant because the karst speleological studies and the scientific results obtained from them can play an important role, first, in the protection of the karst landscape, the tourist use of caves and their effective management. Especially since some types of karst landscapes - caves, poljes, Vaucluse springs, etc. represent an important resource of geoparks, as they attract many visitors interested in geo-, eco- and speleo- tourism. These resources can also have a significant value as natural heritage that needs to be properly preserved. They are also important for the use of karst water for drinking, for the security of the country and so on. I would also like to point out that the systematic study of the karst landscape in Georgia began in the 1950s, when the Laboratory of Karstology-Speleology was established at the Institute of Geography in 1952. The Institute of Geography is still the only scientific research center in Georgia with a huge experience in studying karst processes,” the young researcher explains.
Within the framework of the two-year project, under the direct leadership of Lasha Asanidze, it is planned to conduct expeditions to the Zemo Imereti structural plateau, as well as a scientific research visit abroad, participation in an international scientific forum, and publication of a scientific paper in an internationally recognized journal. “If we look at it from a scientific point of view, the research is quite extensive. A foreign advisor with a broad scientific profile is officially involved in it, who will assist and advise the research group as needed. The project also has a Georgian mentor from the TSU Institute of Geography, Dr. Zaza Lezhava, who has been working on karst landscape issues for many years. Another participant in the project is Kukuri Tsikarishvili, chief research fellow of the TSU Institute of Geography, whose contribution to the development of Georgian speleology is invaluable. As in other fellowship projects, TSU students at various levels and young scientists from the Institute of Geography will be involved in the research, gaining important theoretical and practical experience from senior colleagues. As Lasha Asanidze notes, the research carried out under the auspices of the TSU Institute of Geography had always involved young scientists who, having gained experience, have worked on their master’s or doctoral theses. “Today’s technologies allow research and study of the earth’s surface relief with greater accuracy and intensity, for example, with unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), satellite aerial images, topographic maps of various scales, digital terrain models. etc. Our goal is to carry out photogrammetric planning of the karst terrain of the Zemo Imereti structural plateau, which will be based on field expeditions on the one hand, and on the use of modern technologies and software on the other. First, it is planned to produce high-resolution orthophotos and digital models of the karst terrain, which will be obtained by processing aerial photographs taken at close range by an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone). The project is a kind of pilot study, within the framework of which we will introduce world-proven research methods and approaches in this direction in Georgia, which is very important for further raising the scientific level and professional advancement.”
Lasha has been working as a senior researcher at the Institute of Geography since 2020, and of course, he started his career as a laboratory assistant. However, as he says, his acquaintance with the TSU Institute of Geography began during his undergraduate studies at TSU, when he participated for the first time in a scientific expedition to the Caucasus glaciers under the guidance of Professor Ramin Gobejishvili. The research involved monitoring glaciers in the context of global warming, which required long-term field observations. Due to the difficult relief and climatic conditions, the basic research on the Caucasus glaciers was carried out mainly during the summer period, and Lasha had been an unchanged member of the expedition for years. “While continuing my PhD studies, I had already established a position to continue my scientific career in speleology. Speleology is a branch of science that deals with the study of the underground world, i.e. the study of karst caves, especially since the Institute of Geography is the only research institute in Georgia, which has great experience in the study of karst caves and relevant specialists. It is worth mentioning that the desire to become a TSU graduate came to me when I was still an entrant. However, along with desire and determination, there was probably some luck that I entered Tbilisi State University completely free of charge. I am very proud to be a researcher at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University because I have been involved in both local and international scientific research at the Institute of Geography for more than 13 years.
It should be noted that this is not the first Rustaveli Foundation grant for a young scientist. “This project is the tenth project financed by the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia. I was the scientific supervisor of 7 projects, and I was the main participant in 3 projects. Exactly 10 years ago, I received my first project at the Rustaveli National Science Foundation, when I became the winner of the Presidential Grant for Young Scientists in 2013. The project aimed at the speleo-geomorphological study of the Shaori Cave (Ambrolauri Municipality) and its surroundings,” says the young scientist.
As for international studies, since entering the PhD program at TSU, Lasha Asanidze has deepened his knowledge by staying at various scientific institutes and universities around the world, including Barry University, Western Kentucky University, University of South Florida, University of Bologna and Italian Institute of Speleology, University of Basel. In 2019, he also became the winner of the Fulbright program (the program was funded by the U.S. government) and in 2019-2020 he carried out scientific research at the University of Massachusetts (USA), which included the reconstruction of the paleoclimate in Georgia through speleothems (mainly stalactites and stalagmites), from various glacial and interglacial periods to the present. “Within the framework of the Fulbright program, we have fully and continuously dated the last 93,000 years through geochemical and isotopic studies of speleothems, which is a step forward in Georgia from a scientific point of view and has great regional and international significance. The mentioned research is completely innovative for Georgia, because research of this type/scale has not been carried out not only in Georgia, but also in the Caucasus region. At this stage, we are actively working on scientific papers for publication in top international scientific journals,” Lasha notes.
In the near future, he plans to conduct even more complex research in this direction together with his foreign colleagues. “This year, I won the grant competition Georgia’s Researchers' Mobility Programme announced by the European Union, which was implemented by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Within the framework of the mentioned program, I have a unique opportunity to conduct in-depth research at the University of Pisa in Italy in the field of paleoclimate reconstruction to determine the causes of climate change in Georgia.”
For a young scientist, the implementation of projects of international importance is essential both for building a successful scientific career and for collaborating with foreign colleagues. Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia is a good opportunity to conduct complex scientific research and to cooperate with foreign colleagues, - this is how the geographer with solid experience evaluates various opportunities available for scientists.