Joel B Sankey, Ph.D.


I am a Research Geologist for the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center (SBSC), and the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC), in Flagstaff, Arizona. I am also an adjunct professor of the School of Earth and Sustainability (SES) at Northern Arizona University. Previously, I was a Mendenhall Fellow with the USGS Western Geographic Science Center located at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I have a Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from the Geosciences Department at Idaho State University.

Overall, my research focus is on geomorphic and ecosystem processes and function of rivers and upland environments. I characterize and interpret physical and biological land surface change that occurs contemporarily at intra-annual to decadal time scales. I study changes that occur as a function of soil erosion and sediment transport. I also study biophysical processes that change the distribution and composition of vegetation. Many of the land surface changes I study are driven by disturbances caused by people, fires, flooding, and wind. My work is directly relevant to either management actions that are implemented by humans to mitigate these disturbances (e.g., large-scale planting and seeding) or management actions that have either intentionally (e.g., controlled river floods; prescribed fires; removal of invasive vegetation) or unintentionally (e.g., climate change) produced the disturbance and therefore are drivers of change. Increasingly, my work focuses on forecasting how future changes in climate, weather, and hydrology, will affect ecosystems and management outcomes.

Much of my work incorporates remote sensing with digital imagery and topographic data acquired from multispectral and LiDAR sensors on ground-based, airborne (including manned and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)), and satellite platforms. I also use detailed field-investigations for ecological and geomorphic assessment.  

At the GCMRC, I lead the remote sensing group. I design our research and monitoring to be responsive to the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP), a Federal Advisory Committee chartered by the US Department of Interior and chaired by the Undersecretary for Water and Science.

Google Scholar Profile

ResearchGate Profile