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S69. Remote sensing of agricultural practices to support conservation implementation

Develop and implement multispectral and hyperspectral satellite remote sensing methods for winter cover crop performance (biomass, fractional cover, traits) and crop residue cover, and inform decision support tools, modeling, and adaptive management. Evaluate conservation implementation in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Missouri and support projects related to NASA EMIT and NASA ACRES research.

Research Opportunity Description

The postdoctoral researcher will join a team of scientists focused on understanding the effects of agricultural conservation practices as relates to agricultural sustainability, reduction of nutrient and sediment losses from farmland, and water quality outcomes. The research advisor has over a decade of experience developing remote sensing applications for winter cover crops and crop residue cover, which provides a fertile and data-rich setting to develop applications based on rapidly advancing satellite data sources, paired with extensive field data collection and access to privacy-protected conservation implementation datasets. The research is impact driven with a focus on supporting adaptive management of conservation practice incentive programs and understanding the linkages between conservation implementation and landscape processes.

The incumbent will work with a diverse team of applied agricultural scientists, technologists, and data and physical scientists to assess the performance of agricultural conservation practices using multispectral and hyperspectral satellite remote sensing systems. The research will develop and implement operational remote sensing methods that assess winter cover crop performance (biomass, fractional cover, N and C content) and crop residue cover related to reduced tillage systems, which will inform decision support tools, modeling efforts, and adaptive management of conservation incentive programs. Ongoing research objectives to which the postdoctoral researcher could apply their talents include: application of remote sensing tools to monitor and adapt conservation implementation in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Missouri; support of projects related to NASA ROSES EMIT and NASA ACRES research; and incorporation of remotely sensed mapping of photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic ground cover into soil erosion models used by USDA NRCS conservation districts (RUSLER) and into carbon monitoring systems (Century, SWAT-C). Duties will include imagery-based data processing as well as field data collection (soils, plants, residue, proximal sensors) to support imagery calibration/validation. The incumbent will have the opportunity to interact with researchers at the USGS and USDA-ARS, as well as conservation collaborators at the Chesapeake Bay Program, state agencies, and elsewhere.

The work is funded by the USGS Land Change Science Program within the Core Science Systems Mission Area, and by NASA ROSES EMIT project funds.  The research team operates in a broad interagency collaboration including the USDA Conservation Effects Assessment Project, the USDA Long Term Agricultural Research Program, NASA ACRES, and the Precision Sustainable Agriculture Network, as well as direct collaboration with state conservation agencies in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Missouri and also the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. 


  • Conduct and lead remote sensing research initiatives specific to conservation agriculture
  • Data acquisition, integration, and analysis from both satellite platforms and field data collections
  • Conduct geospatial analysis of cover crop performance and crop residue cover and distribution using a variety of multispectral and hyperspectral satellite imagery combined with field sampling and proximal (in-field) remote sensing 
  • Develop methods to incorporate geospatial input data into the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation Raster soil erosion model
  • Conduct team-oriented research and exhibit exceptional leadership abilities
  • Author scientific manuscripts related to the work

Preferred job qualifications:

  • Expertise in processing and analysis of remotely sensed data (optical, radar, lidar, etc.)
  • Ability or expertise in automating workflows, including knowledge on calling APIs for imagery download
  • Ability to develop, debug, and revise software code: R, Python, and/or IDL
  • Demonstrated ability to deliver scientific results and communicate remote sensing concepts
  • Established research credentials through publications in relevant refereed journals, and an existing record of, or strong potential for, successful grant procurement
  • Well-organized, a strong writer, a strong project manager and programmer
  • Ability to work smoothly as part of a well-organized research collaboration
  • Ability and interest in collecting physical data from agricultural fields 
  • Experience with agricultural cropping systems and field data collection
  • Experience with soil loss models such as RUSLER (Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation Raster)
  • Experience with classical machine learning and modern deep learning approaches
  • Working knowledge of user interface development systems used in software application development such as git, SQL, RStudio

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.


Proposed Duty Station(s) 

Beltsville, Maryland. The incumbent will be stationed with their USGS Research Adviser at the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service – Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory located at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.


Areas of PhD 

Geographical sciences, remote sensing, agricultural science, soil science, spatial statistics, landscape ecology, natural resources, data science, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).



Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Physical ScientistResearch BiologistResearch CartographerResearch EcologistResearch Geographer, or Research Soil Scientist.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)