WCU group planning trip to S. America to work on remote sensing project
11/14/2008 -

A Western Carolina University faculty member and 10 of her students will use a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to travel to South America in early 2009 to work on a project testing the remote sensing applications of a new type of radar satellite technology.

Joni Budgen-Storie, assistant professor of geosciences and natural resources, was awarded a grant of $99,612 to develop a project in cooperation with the University of San Juan in Argentina and the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil to test the use of polarimetric radar data in mapping land use and land cover.

Remote sensing through the use of satellites orbiting the Earth has been going on for about half a century, with one of the most widely known modern examples being the weather satellites that produce images of clouds and storms, Budgen-Storie said. The polarimetric radar, which uses microwave wavelengths emitted from a satellite to “see” through clouds and detect targets on the Earth’s surface, has been in operation only about five years, she said.

To test the radar’s ability to discriminate between different types of ground cover, the partners will create land-use/land-cover maps using radar data and on-the-ground observations. The project will focus on three particular areas – the semi-temperate forests around Cullowhee, the tropical forests of Brazil, and a semi-arid desert in Argentina. The project will test the radar’s applications for detecting land use and land cover for water quality monitoring in Western North Carolina, to track land use changes in Argentina, and to find illegal soybean fields in a national park in Brazil, Budgen-Storie said.

Accompanied by Christopher Storie, Budgen-Storie’s husband and a lecturer in geography at Winthrop University, the WCU contingent will be in South America from Feb. 28 through March 14. After arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the group will hold a workshop for governmental staff, and university faculty and students to teach them how to use the polarimetric radar data to create land-cover/land-use maps. Then, the WCU contingent will travel to San Juan, Argentina, to collect field observations in the Tulum Valley with faculty and students from the University of San Juan. At the same time, the orbiting RADARSAT-2 Earth observation satellite will collect data from the same area so that participants can compare the findings from field collections and the radar data to create maps.

The WCU group will travel to San Paulo, Brazil, to conduct another workshop before returning home.

Some of the students who will go on the trip are currently taking a new course, “Land Suitability Classification,” to learn how to do field collection for mapping with radar remote sensing data. During the spring semester, all 10 students will learn how to make land-use/land-cover maps using software and radar satellite data in another new course, “Advanced Remote Sensing.”

The skills gained by the students involved in the project will help them be better prepared to address resource conservation and management issues after they graduate and begin working in Western North Carolina, Budgen-Storie said. The type of work the WCU students are engaged in is not being done anywhere else in North Carolina, she said.

For more information about the project and WCU’s natural resource conservation and management program, contact Budgen-Storie at (828) 227-3819.

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Last modified: Friday, Nov. 14, 2008



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