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,
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.