NASA Funding Virginia Tech's New Remote Sensing Center

January 23, 1998

BLACKSBURG, Jan. 23, 1998 -- Greg Brown, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, has announced that NASA will provide $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 -- land and water, above ground and underground, including such details as soil types, watersheds, and wildlife habitats -- to enable decision makers 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," Dean Brown noted, "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 explained. "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 explained. "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.

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 proposed National Environmental Monitoring Framework.

The research funding will upgrade facilities with modern hardware and software. A remote sensing laboratory will be housed within the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources and shared with other constituencies. 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 added.

Additional laboratories located in the geography department 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 the institutional strength 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," noted Brown, "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. "

Persons interested in seeing the entire proposal for the center may visit the Web site at, or contact Wynne at


Virginia Tech

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