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Eyes on Earth Episode 91 – Intro to AmericaView

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Detailed Description

AmericaView aims to advance Earth observation education through a network of programs based at universities in more than 40 states. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we talk about AmericaView’s goals and how AmericaView and its member states explain remote sensing efforts to society in a variety of ways, including outreach to students who range from elementary to graduate school. We also give examples of the organization’s remote sensing research and describe AmericaView’s ties with the USGS and with Landsat.




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Jane Lawson:
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Eyes on Earth. Our podcast focuses on our ever-changing planet and on the people at EROS and across the globe who use remote sensing to monitor the health of Earth. My name is Jane Lawson, and I'll be hosting today's episode where we're talking about the program AmericaView, which is actually a network of programs that are based in universities in most states. AmericaView refers to the view offered by remote sensing, or sensors that aren't in direct contact with objects they're observing from platforms such as satellites, aircraft and drones. AmericaView aims to advance, in its own words, "Earth observation education through remote sensing science, applied research, workforce development, technology transfer and community outreach. AmericaView and its state members and remote sensing experts support the uses of remote sensing to society in a variety of ways, from university-led scientific studies to elementary classroom demonstrations. AmericaView also sponsors the annual Earth Observation Day, a STEM event that celebrates the joint USGS-NASA Landsat Program, which marked 50 years of Earth observation last year. The USGS National Land Imaging Program also offers grant opportunities for research, outreach and education through AmericaView. Our guests today are here to talk about their roles in supporting AmericaView. Chris McGinty is the executive director of AmericaView and also assistant director at the Utah State University Remote Sensing GIS Laboratory. Lisa Wirth is the program director of AmericaView and previously the AlaskaView director. Sal Cook at the USGS National Land Imaging Program is program liaison for the AmericaView Grant. Dr. JC Seong, professor of Geospatial Technologies at the University of West Georgia, serves as the director of GeorgiaView. Everyone, welcome to Eyes on Earth. Chris, can you talk a little bit about the structure and purpose of AmericaView?

Chris McGinty:
Sure, Jane. Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you today and for all of us to be here. We're excited. So, AmericaView is a nationwide university-based and state-implemented network with the mission of empowering Earth observation education through outreach, applied research, workforce development and technology transfer, as you mentioned a little earlier. From a national perspective, AmericaView is guided by a board of directors. Each has been involved with the workings of AmericaView at different levels over many years. And we have a small staff of four that oversee 41 state programs, as well as our national program efforts that really focus on the opportunity to promote the use and understanding of Earth observation through remote sensing. Each of our state programs, or our StateViews as we refer to them, has a mandate to develop a local consortium or network. And these local networks really strive to support the vision and mission of AmericaView, as well as the objectives and goals of our funding and program partners. This includes the United States Geological Survey, NASA and others. So while AmericaView is a national network that fosters collegiality, communication and support among members across the nation, it's really the local grassroots efforts within the states that empower the use and understanding of remote sensing needs. And that's not just within a university or academic system, but really working with K through 12 educators, students, helping nontraditional students retool for new jobs. And this can really include just about anyone, given how important remote sensing and geospatial data is in today's world. It also includes veterans and others that are entering the workforce after, say, being in another job or leaving the service. But also, our StateViews really work closely with the public as well as municipal and state governments. So the structure of AmericaView really has a broad reach at many different levels.

Do you want to tell me briefly how, and when, and why AmericaView began?

Yeah, it's actually a great story. And AmericaView has a long history, just like the Landsat Program, although not quite as long. AmericaView started as OhioView to include several Ohio universities, and this was really put in place to help facilitate the understanding and use of Landsat data in the late 1990s. The program was so successful that through congressional direction in the early 2000s, the USGS spun out the national AmericaView Program with about 10 charter states, really to continue that work that had begun in Ohio and been so successful. So, in 2003, AmericaView was incorporated as an independent nonprofit. And since that time, the AmericaView membership has grown from those original states, and in fact, from one state, Ohio, to 41 states. We're super excited about that. And in fact, we're really pleased that we recently had the opportunity to admit both Nevada and Tennessee into the network. With the mandate to facilitate the use of Landsat data having been so successful, paired with the opening of the Landsat archive to the public free of charge in 2008, the mission of AmericaView really evolved alongside that of the Landsat program. So with data costs no longer an issue, the use of Landsat data increased exponentially. But so, too, did the need to promote the understanding on how to use that data properly. This really meant that AmericaView began the process of encouraging state networks to build communication channels that could not only facilitate the use of the data at all levels, but really also develop a dialog to help communicate local, state and regional needs to the federal space and communicate the resources that existed in the federal space back to the local levels, and really help encourage that education, outreach and technology transfer across our states.

Lisa, do you want to tell us what kinds of research have come out of the AmericaView, then, and some of the educational components, too? 

Lisa Wirth:
Absolutely. There's a wide range of research that's being conducted by AmericaView state members, from agriculture, natural resource management, invasive species mitigation and climate impacts. And one example is in California, where they involve undergraduate and graduate students in precision agriculture research to identify how to optimize water management for grapevine growers. And they most recently partnered with E. & J. Gallo Winery with this effort. And they also conduct research on fire behavior and mitigation at the wildland urban interface, which is where there are a lot of vegetative fuels to increase the severity of wildfire and where there are also many homes. And so this work identifies building footprints for emergency response activities and is further identifying the fuel attributes that lead to severe wildfire outbreaks. And so these two activities within California are increasingly important, but not only to California, but across the nation, as we seek to find better ways to mitigate the effects of climate change. An educational component that has developed within AmericaView and grew from a USGS initiative is Earth As Art exhibits as an educational tool. Earth As Art uses Landsat satellite imagery printed on canvases and other art mediums to gain the attention of public audiences and engage them in conversations about the science behind the striking images of the Earth. It has proven to be an excellent way to lower the barriers to engaging the public in learning about remote sensing science and Earth observation studies. And AmericaView has recently developed educational lesson plans for use in middle school classrooms centered around that Earth As Art theme to further engage the next generation of remote sensing scientists. 

Those Earth As Art images that Lisa is talking about are actually produced at EROS and available for download by anyone. Sal, what is the relationship between USGS and AmericaView? 

Sal Cook:
Well, Jane, the USGS, through the National Land Imaging Program, provides a competitively awarded funding opportunity called the National Land Remote Sensing Education Outreach and Research Grant Activity. This grant's currently awarded to AmericaView as a five-year nationwide effort. The grant's objectives include communicating Earth observation needs at the state and local level back to the USGS, developing remote sensing applications to deploy with local communities, promoting remote sensing education at the university level whereby undergrad and graduate students support various research projects, and they also develop remote sensing education materials with an emphasis, of course, on Landsat data, at the K through 12 and collegiate levels to engage the next generation. 

So then how does AmericaView benefit the USGS and, in turn, the public? 

Well, I think we can all agree that grant activity has been in effect for quite some time as an efficient way to meet user needs at the state and local levels. The AmericaView Consortium, under this grant authority, serves the USGS and in turn the nation by providing remote sensing education and outreach to develop tomorrow's remote sensing scientists and users, and to provide additional research, meeting local customers' needs to understand our changing world.

Lisa, is it right that each member state shapes their own goals and missions, then? 

Lisa Wirth:
Yes, it is. 

OK. So how do they decide what their focus or projects will be? 

So as Chris mentioned earlier, one of AmericaView's overall goals is to serve the needs of each individual state, and we do that through our StateView members. And so each state has a local network that identifies the most pressing issues within their state and local communities that they can help in addressing. For example, NebraskaView, which is located out of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, works with three different cities to map urban forest canopies using remote sensing technology. And this helps the cities with their planning and management efforts. And so this is one of the unique benefits that AmericaView provides to the USGS, which is our ability to work at that grassroots level across the nation, making those federal dollars have a meaningful impact on local communities.

That's an excellent example. Another example, an ambitious one, came out of Georgia recently. JC, do you want to tell us a little about the three volumes of the Georgia Land Cover Image Atlas that you worked to publish? What made you think of the idea?

JC Seong:
In the case of GeorgiaView, over the last three years, my students and I mapped cropland change, forest change and urbanization because those are directly related to our living environment. Many people are aware of them, but are not easily accessible to tangible resources that show the details of the extensive usage and changes of our land. We started the Image Atlas Mapping Project with the idea of focusing on the sense of place. The sense of place is easily found in Georgia, such as a hometown, alma mater, parish and community. As a Georgia resident here, the phrase "Georgia on my Mind" is a typical example for me. It is strongly tied to community boundaries, and we see that maps are the best vehicle to represent that sense of place, particularly image maps deliver more than a thousand words. And we found that the medium-resolution Landsat imagery and their products are the best fit to map the 159 counties, 14 U.S. congressional districts and 12 regional commissions in the state of Georgia. We also decided to print maps in the Image Atlas because there are many decision makers who are not familiar with working with the satellite imagery and their products. We see that printed maps are the best vehicle to deliver satellite information, you know, collectively and summarize that way. We also see that printed maps allow us to archive our time in this fast-evolving digital content consumption era. We have delivered the printed Atlases to decision makers, community planners, field Extension offices and congressional representatives. Their responses testify the value of the Atlas. For example, our congressional representative noted that the Image Atlas will give agriculturalists across the state for the knowledge of crop management and will open the door for future technological advancements to be made in the state's top industry. Also, a forest ranger in the rural counties found the Atlas very informative and useful to help educate communities about the impact of land cover change on the forest. We value the Atlas by bringing these kinds of small but very powerful impacts on our communities and also incubating the sense of place for our next generation.

It sounds like there's a lot of value for decision makers and residents of Georgia. So if AmericaView didn't exist, what would our society be missing out on?

That's a great question. And I think JC just pointed out really some of the things that we would be missing out on. We would be missing out on these opportunities to support local decision makers, to educate kids, to work with learners of all ages, and to really facilitate this understanding of Earth observation and this critical use of remotely sensed data from different platforms. And also, we wouldn't have that opportunity to reach those local levels, and we'd be missing out on the overall number of individual trained folks in geospatial sciences and that basic understanding of Earth observation data and the opportunity to interact that really fosters the understanding in the science, technology, engineering, arts and math spaces that are so important.

Chris mentioned that we would be missing out on a trained geospatial workforce, which is a very important aspect. But we would also be missing out on a diverse trained workforce. And so, since AmericaView is that nationwide network, we are in the local communities training teachers, grade school students and undergraduate and graduate students. And all of these individuals come from diverse backgrounds. Some are from Native American universities, minority-serving K through 12 schools and undergraduate students conducting research on their family ranches in Wyoming, showing their parents a new way to manage their lands using remote sensing technologies. And so, without AmericaView, these diverse populations across the nation would not have an established program to support them in their educational pursuits.

And also, from our StateView perspective, AmericaView is a network of people who love our land, neighbors and communities, and also who love to share ideas about remote sensing science, education and outreach. AmericaView meetings and conferences have given me invaluable ideas and energy over the last decade. I've been lucky to meet many colleagues from all over the States who have been so passionate about remote sensing education, research and outreach.

Anyone have any closing thoughts?

Like we said, we're continuing to grow, and like the Landsat Program, we're always improving as we move forward. We're learning from our past but holding strong to that long history of empowering Earth observation education, and doing that at all levels, and doing that in a diverse manner. We're really a nationwide resource for Earth observation remote sensing resources that continue to grow as we grow and engage at the most local level as we can. I guess the one thing that I would like to mention in closing is the free resources - and I say free, but the resources that are available on the AmericaView website and via social media and LinkedIn and other sources. Those resources are there for everyone to use. They're there so anyone can go to the website, they can download those resources. But not just the resources - they can actually tap into the knowledge of their local state networks. These are people that are not hard to get a hold of. You can email Lisa and I directly. We can put you in touch with people in your state. We can help facilitate that communication. I think a good example of just the power of the network, we don't have Florida as a member, for example. However, we were at a conference in Denver and met a gentleman from Florida who was going to be educating about 100 Scouts in remote sensing, and he had no resources. And so we were able to connect him with USGS to provide some posters. We were able to tap him into the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensors to connect them with local resources of people that can come and talk to them. And it was a fantastic example of how, even though we may not be in a certain place, we have the ability to connect people to understanding remote sensing and Earth observation. Lisa, do you have any other thoughts?

We should mention the website:

Yeah, I think the Landsat program is really invaluable to not only AmericaView and also the entire community, maintaining the Landsat program for the future and getting most valuable information out of them is a really kind of important part of remote sensing society.

Thank you, Chris, Lisa, Sal and J.C. for joining us for this episode of Eyes on Earth, where we talked about AmericaView's contribution to remote sensing in society. And thank you to the listeners. Check out our EROS Facebook and Twitter pages to watch for our newest episodes, and you can also subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts.

Various voices:
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