Engineering Professor Appointed to USGS/NASA Landsat Science Team

Monday, December 17 2012

After a competitive nationwide process, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has named Rick Allen, University of Idaho faculty member of the departments of biological and agricultural engineering and civil engineering, to the National Science Team supporting the new Landsat Data Continuity Mission Satellite, scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in February. The expert team of scientists and engineers will serve a five-year term, from 2012-2017, and provide technical and scientific input to USGS and NASA on issues critical to the success of the Landsat program. Allen is being reappointed to a second five year term on the prestigious national team. Allen’s contributions to the team will be in one of his research specialty areas: “Developing and enhancing Landsat derived evapotranspiration and surface energy products.” Allen’s financial award for serving on the Team will be $1 million over the five year period. He will partner with researchers from Nevada and Nebraska on the evapotranspiration work.

Now in its 40th year, the Landsat program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the USGS. Since 1972, Landsat satellites have collected imagery of Earth's continents and surrounding coastal regions, enabling researchers to study many aspects of our planet and to evaluate the dynamic changes caused by both natural processes and human practices.

"The team will form a science vanguard in advancing the analysis and application of Landsat data for science and resource management," said Jim Irons, LDCM project scientist for NASA. "Their guidance will be invaluable as we plan for the long term future of the Landsat program."

As recognized national and international leaders in land remote sensing, Landsat Science Team members will evaluate operational and data management strategies to meet the requirements of all Landsat users, including the needs of policy makers at all levels of government. They will play a key role in ensuring that the upcoming Landsat mission is successfully integrated with past, present, and future remotely sensed data for the purpose of observing national and global environmental conditions.

“I am, of course, honored and excited at being selected to join the mission team for a second five-year term,” Allen said. “And especially delighted because this is an opportunity to integrate the important research conducted at the University of Idaho and to train more Idaho students and researchers in the use of remotely sensed environmental and water resources data.”

Landsat provides images that are used for agricultural, forestry, and coastal management; insect, fire, and storm damage assessments; and urban, transportation, and water resources planning. The data gathered by these satellites are also used in regional agriculture, climate, and ecosystem modeling studies.

Allen and his U-Idaho-Kimberly research team and students will further the development of algorithms and computer software to estimate water consumption from irrigated and natural vegetation over large land areas.

“Landsat has ‘pixels’ that are 30 m (100 feet) on a side, so we can view the consumption of water inside individual irrigated fields and also along the narrow systems of vegetation along streams and rivers.” Allen said. “This type of spatial information helps the Idaho Department of Water Resources and similar departments in many other states manage the impacts and long-term sustainability of our water resources.”

Allen and his research team at the University of Idaho Research and Extension Center at Kimberly have gained a national reputation for advances in producing information on water consumption using satellite images. Their processing software, called “METRIC” has spread to use in nearly 20 other states and 8 countries and was at the center of a recent Western States workshop in Boise. Allen’s partnership work with the Idaho Department of Water Resources was awarded the “Innovations in American Governance” Award in 2009 by the Kennedy School of Harvard University.