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The BYU Center for Remote Sensing developed from a desire to foster greater faculty collaboration, foster research, and improve the academic experience of our students. The following describes the background and rationale for the Center.

Background and Rationale for the Center

The dawn of the space age has helped mankind view the world as a global, connected system. Developments in the technology of remote sensing have enabled us to better understand the global atmosphere, ocean and biosphere and our effects on the climate and the environment. In addition, the use of computerized geographic information systems (GIS) has increased dramatically in the last decade as computer programs and users have become more sophisticated in their use of remotely sensed data. The growth in the applications of environmental remote sensing and GIS over the last several decades has lead to a significant need for educational programs to train scientific researchers and engineers, application specialists, and other users of remote sensing and GIS in these fields. Further, the growth in remote sensing has lead to a wide variety of significant funding and research opportunities in remote sensing and its applications. Over the last decade faculty in various departments at BYU, including the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECEn), Geography, and Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) departments have been engaged in remote sensing and GIS research. As a result, over $7,000,000 of external research funding has been brought into BYU. The money has funded the education of over 100 students and provided valuable computer equipment used in research and teaching labs. The experience these students had has increased their salaries and job opportunities. Many completing a M.S. degree at BYU have gone on to get Ph.D. at such prestigious institutions as MIT, U. Illinois, U. Michigan, among others.

This research activity is also producing a growing reputation for BYU in remote sensing. Remote sensing research is inherently interdisciplinary and although BYU's academic program is weak in the Earth sciences, the research has helped make BYU one of the leading institutions in this field. In particular, research in the Microwave Earth Remote Sensing (MERS) laboratory in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECEn) department and the Geography department has help BYU gain a growing national reputation in microwave remote sensing, competing successfully with the Universities of Michigan and Washington, the top programs in the nation. For example, for the last 4-5 years, BYU has had the single largest authorship at the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, the premier conference in the engineering aspects of the field.

Unfortunately, these individual BYU programs find themselves limited by disciplinary student pools, space and staff constraints, and the current disciplinary structure at BYU which does not facilitate inter-departmental, intra-campus interactions. A Center for Remote Sensing will help overcome these limitations and expand our programs. By producing a strong program in this highly visible area, one in which BYU has already shown considerable expertise, the Center will enable us to capitalize on our existing successes and reputations and to increase BYU's visibility and reputation and expand the educational and research opportunities of students and faculty. M Other existing BYU programs which use remote sensing but may be less well known (e.g., archeology, range science, geology) could also benefit from such a strong program. Further, we can attract students who will be hired into positions of benefit to both BYU and the Church.

As demonstrated by the history of MERS and LGIA, the Center will expand the educational and research opportunities of students and faculty at BYU. The enhanced academic program, as well as increased name recognition will benefit our students seeking profitable employment upon graduation. This not only benefits the student, but BYU and the Church as well. As an explicit step towards this academic improvement, the Center will propose a new Certificate Program in Remote Sensing which it will administer. The interdisciplinary research conducted within the Center will ultimately involve a wide range of departments, colleges, and programs within the University. The founding programs already enjoy a national reputation and it is expected that the Center will further foster this reputation. The stature of other BYU programs can thus be expected to benefit through association with and involvement in the Center.

To summarize, the formation of the Center will:

  • Enhance our academic program with additional interdisciplinary teaching and research
  • Enhance the reputation and name recognition of BYU with business, government, and funding agencies.
  • Foster research program growth and student research experiences
  • Enable BYU to attract and retain world-class faculty and leverage our existing faculty
  • Elevate the stature of existing BYU programs in a variety of departments and colleges

While the Center is being founded on existing world-class research programs, about half of the participating students are undergraduates. It follows, therefore, that the formation of CERS will benefit BYU undergraduate students in a variety of ways. For example, the Center will enable the Departments to attract world-class faculty to augment existing faculty, leading to improved faculty/student interaction and mentoring. The Center will foster increased research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. Based on the positive experiences of the MERS and LGIA labs, this will result in value-added experiences for our students which will substantially enhance their job opportunities and career placement. The curriculum will be improved by the addition of new courses and the revision of existing courses and lab experiences to incorporate additional interdisciplinary topics. Such course revisions will benefit from work resulting from Center-fostered research. External research will also provide students with additional financial aid. Our typical students will also have more exposure to non-traditional students and to students and courses from multiple colleges.

Remote Sensing Background

Remote sensing is the acquisition of information or data about a distant object or system without being in physical contact with it. The term 'remote sensing' is generally understood to include the ability to record and preserve remotely sensed data. In a general sense, however, we are all involved with visual remote sensing using our sight. Much of what we understand about our world comes from visual information we acquire using our eyes. However, our eyes can only see a very limited part of the full electromagnetic spectrum. It is also difficult to see events which happen very rapidly or very slowly or are too far away.

Telescopes first enhanced our vision. Using telescopes the moons of Jupiter were discovered and studied for the first time, creating whole new fields of scientific study such as planetology and extraterrestrial geology. Later, cameras permitted permanent visual images to be recorded. Soon after their development, cameras became one of the first true remote sensing tools when they were first flown on balloons, then airplanes and later spacecraft. Special films extend the range of cameras beyond visible light to infrared and ultraviolet. Modern remote sensing includes the entire electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves through microwaves, millimeter waves, submillimeter waves, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma rays. Active remote sensing systems, those that carry their own illumination source, include radars and lidars (laser radars). The spectrum range is important because the world looks differently at different parts of the spectrum due to variations in electrical and mechanical properties. In the visible light range we call this effect 'color'. Color helps discriminate between objects and various surface properties.

High altitude aircraft and satellites allow acquisition of remotely sensed data over large scale regions, giving us a global view of the Earth. The impact of remote sensing can not be understated. Sensors on weather satellites routinely return vital weather information which help farmers protect crops, forecast storms, monitor climate, and track pollution. Remote sensing has enabled scientists to better understand the global atmosphere, the oceans, vegetation cover and their interrelationship. It is beginning to help us understand the impact of modern civilization on the planet and its biosphere. Remote sensing can provide both rapid-repeat, global views as well as high resolution observations to study phenomena at all scales in time and space. Remotely sensed data is used in an incredible variety of scientific and engineering studies such as archeology, air/sea interaction, fisheries, watersheds, weather and climate, land-use planning, waste disposal, mining, geologic studies, and crop yields. Remote sensing has become increasing sophisticated and complex as new sensor technologies have been developed and as the number and sophistication of the applications have grown. Paralleling this development in remote sensing technology have been advancements in cartographic (mapping) technology and the use of computers and large computer databases to store and analyze geographic information. The use of computerized geographic information systems (GIS) has increased dramatically in the last decade as computer programs and users have become more sophisticated in their use of remotely sensed data. Combining GIS and remote sensing technologies substantially enhances the ability to understand the various interrelationships of key environmental variables and to facilitate applications of these technologies in a variety of fields.

Remote sensing is inherently interdisciplinary. Engineering provides the technology for sensor development and understanding of the interaction of electromagnetic signals with the surface. Geography provides mapping expertise and capability, including GIS technology. However, the applications of remote sensing span huge range of fields from geography, municipal planning, civil engineering, range management, forestry, archeology, agriculture, hydrology, biological and physical oceanography, meteorology, climatology, cryosphere studies, atmospheric physics, and many other Earth sciences. The number and breath of remote sensing applications continues to expand.