NASA funds CFWR remote-sensing center
By Lynn Davis
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 19 - February 5, 1998
Greg Brown, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, has announced that NASA will fund the university $419,256 to establish the Virginia Tech Center for Environmental Applications of Remote Sensing (CEARS).
Such a center will provide maps and spatial data at all levels to enable decision makers, for instance, to locate major development projects with the least impact. The center will be able to offer better detailed geographic information on localities than currently available as well as data on the broad landscape and inter-relationships. "This kind of information," Brown said, "can help people make good decisions on matters that have any bearing on the environment."
"NASA will be working with us in this university-wide effort to develop the multiple missions of CEARS: research, education, and outreach," Forestry Department Head Harold Burkhart said. "NASA headquarters at Washington, D.C., its Langley site in the Norfolk area, and Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland give NASA researchers easy access to our Blacksburg campus."
Spearheading the efforts for Virginia Tech are Randolph Wynne, assistant professor of forestry who specializes in applying the new generation of commercial small-satellite technology to natural resources, and James Campbell, geography professor and department head. "The center will focus on the environmental applications of remote sensing," Wynne said. "Virginia Tech has long been a center of expertise for remote sensing and its cousin, geographic-information systems (GIS), in the United States. CEARS is a continuation of that institutional commitment."
CEARS investigators are interdisciplinary and have forged effective partnerships with other academic institutions, industry, and government to devise innovative solutions for the gamut of environmental problems.
The new research center commits Virginia Tech to being one of the national leaders in the application of advanced-information technologies to instruction, research, and outreach. Because the existing infrastructure is inadequate to meet the challenges and opportunities of this new era, the research funding will upgrade facilities with modern hardware and software.
CEARS will serve as a physical and intellectual center for the application of remote sensing to environmental monitoring, assessment, and consulting. It will be a "virtual" resource to the citizens of Virginia, the mid-Atlantic region, and the nation, as a full partner in the proposed National Environmental Monitoring Framework.
A state-of-the-art remote sensing laboratory will be physically and administratively housed within the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources and shared with other colleagues and constituencies, both on campus and off. The laboratory will be equipped with 25 networked (100 Mbs) Windows NT workstations, an NT server, printers, and a complete suite of image processing and associated software (e.g., compilers, spatial statistical packages, and GIS).
"We intend to augment our capability for measuring and integrating in-situ data by the acquisition of a sun photometer and PAR sensor, a field spectroradiometer, a roving GPS base station, and the materials to construct (with partners in the Virginia Tech Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Department) an electric remotely piloted vehicle capable of carrying small sensor payloads," Wynne said.
"We will also enhance current facilities with a second digital projector that will afford the capability for classroom digital stereo projection. We will add digital photogrammetry capabilities essential in the forthcoming era of along-track high-resolution stereo imagery through the upgrade of an existing UNIX-based workstation" he said.
Additional laboratories located in the Department of Geography and the Fish and Wildlife Information Exchange will support the project.
The proposed enhancements to Virginia Tech's research and instructional infrastructure are critical to building on a strong institutional legacy in remote sensing research and education; fully integrating remote sensing into instruction of the next generation of scientists and resource managers; affording increased collection of in-situ measurements as well as the integration of such data with remotely sensed and other spatial data; and promoting effective partnerships between academia, industry, non-governmental organizations, and government in environmental remote sensing.
"Perhaps most important," Brown said, "the new center will substantially enhance our ability to contribute to the science and technology necessary to better understand the effects of both natural and human-induced variability and change on the earth system. "
The proposal for the center is at http://wynne.fw.vt.edu/cearspro.html; or contact Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org.