Pecora Award Honors Excellence in Earth Observation

Release Date:

Two awardees have been recognized with the 2019 William T. Pecora Award for achievements in Earth remote sensing.

Thomas R. Loveland has been honored for outstanding contributions to earth science as a leading scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey and as chief scientist at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center. NASA’s Terra team has been recognized for significant contributions in all areas of earth science, with scientific impacts and a legacy that make it one of the most successful missions in the long line of earth observing system satellites.

Tom Loveland

USGS scientist Thomas R. Loveland

(Public domain.)

Sponsored by the USGS and NASA, the annual award has been presented since 1974 and honors the memory of William T. Pecora, former USGS director and Department of the Interior undersecretary. The formal presentation to the 2019 Pecora Award recipients was made Monday, Oct. 7, during the opening session of 21st William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium and the 38th International Symposium on Remote Sensing of Environment (ISRSE 38) in Baltimore, Md.

Individual Award

Dr. Thomas R. Loveland has devoted his career to understanding how the Earth’s surface is changing through mapping and monitoring land cover and land use, which has resulted in groundbreaking global land cover research. His work has focused on the impact of human activities. He has been involved in capacity building nationally and internationally, for example, through the Famine Early Warning Systems Network in Africa, which saves human lives by directing response to famine-impacted areas and informing preparation for future famine.

Loveland has led the development of innovative monitoring programs, produced exciting new land cover and land use change products, and steered efforts to improve Landsat missions, ensuring that the data are freely available to users. He led the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme global land cover effort, which brought to fruition the first truly global effort to map land cover via remote sensing.

Loveland has led the development of multiple operational programs for land cover mapping and monitoring in the U.S. and was the convening lead author of the Land Use and Land Cover Chapter in the 2013 National Climate Assessment. From 2006 to 2016, he co-led the NASA/USGS Landsat Science Team, where his innovative and visionary ideas advanced land-imaging science and future Landsat mission planning.

Loveland’s scientific and programmatic leadership has advanced the understanding of our changing Earth. Humanity knows more about natural and human-induced changes as a result of his work.

Group Award

For nearly 20 years, NASA’s Terra team has developed innovative techniques to characterize the environmental status and health of our planet. The Terra satellite and its products have appeared regularly in news coverage of tropical storms, fires and other natural disasters, snowstorms, air quality reports and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA's Terra Team

The Terra Science and Flight Operations Team, 2019

(Credit: Kurtis Thome, NASA. Used with permission)

Terra data have helped federal agencies monitor volcanic ash, forecast weather, monitor forest fires, manage carbon, and assess global crops. The Terra team has shown ingenuity and perseverance in developing new calibration methods to increase data quality, leading to a cohesive long-term record of many environmental quantities with unprecedented accuracy.

The Terra mission has provided a suite of observations that have greatly improved understanding of the Earth-atmosphere system. Terra MODIS multispectral coverage allowed for the first moderate resolution global and comprehensive satellite observations of aerosol and cloud radiative properties. The Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere instrument on Terra was the first designed to observe the distribution and transport of tropospheric carbon monoxide and, along with other sensors, has helped advance our understanding of air quality and biomass burning emissions.

Terra is arguably one of the most successful Earth-sensing satellites ever deployed. The Terra team has expeditiously and effectively made its data and value-added data products openly available for nearly two decades to researchers and many other users. More than 19,000 publications have used Terra products, and the rate of publication has increased steadily over the years, demonstrating increased use of Terra data products by the scientific community.