A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing. Sponsored by the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA, the annual award was presented on Nov. 18 in Denver at the 19th William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium.
Christopher O. Justice, professor and chair of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, was honored for advancing the understanding of the Earth by means of remote sensing. The government and industry team that built and now operates Landsat 8, the latest in the Landsat series of satellites, was also acknowledged for their contributions to study of Earth’s land surface and coastal regions.
Landsat 8, launched as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in February 2013, provides frequent global medium-resolution data for science and applications. Landsat 8 extends the unprecedented Landsat data record which now covers more than four decades.
Justice has made numerous scientific contributions to the study of land use and land cover change and the detection and analysis of wildfires, expanding the use of Earth-observing data from NASA’s Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments.
An innovator in the use of global daily polar orbiter satellite data for mapping and monitoring land cover, Justice provided the vision that led to the first global 1-km data Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) dataset. He leads long-term monitoring of the Congo Basin using Landsat data, an effort that provides invaluable information on the state of the forests of central Africa.
Justice is perhaps best known for his research on wildfires. First using AVHRR data and now MODIS and VIIRS, he successfully developed algorithms for fire detection and burned area estimation. He spearheaded the development of a rapid response system that reveals the location of fires shortly after images are obtained. This system has provided significant practical benefits in many parts of the world and is regularly used in the strategic deployment of fire-fighting assets.
Justice now leads agricultural monitoring efforts. With colleagues from NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he leads the development of a system for forecasting agricultural production based primarily on MODIS data. He is working on transitioning the system to use VIIRS data to ensure longer-term continuity.
The Landsat 8 Team is a partnership between USGS and NASA with strong contributions from industry and the academic community. The Landsat 8 Project Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., oversaw development and launch of the satellite. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, managed ground system development and assumed operation of the mission following in-orbit commissioning.
Landsat 8’s Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) was built at NASA Goddard. Ball Aerospace & Technology Corporation was responsible for the Operational Land Imager (OLI). Orbital Sciences Corporation built the spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance provided the Atlas 2 launch vehicle. The Landsat Science Team of university and government scientists provided scientific and technical input to a wide range of mission activities.
The Landsat 8 Team met the challenge of continuing and advancing the Landsat legacy of observations. The OLI sensor on Landsat 8 is a substantial technical advancement over the Thematic Mapper sensors flown since 1982 on Landsats 4, 5, and 7. In addition, the TIRS instrument utilizes a two-band thermal infrared sensor to more effectively address atmospheric contamination in the thermal infrared spectrum. Mission performance has exceeded expectations, providing more imagery, higher quality measurements, and new capabilities over previous missions.
The Pecora Award was established in 1974 to honor the memory of a former USGS director and Interior undersecretary. William T. Pecora was influential in the establishment of the Landsat satellite program, which created a continuous record of Earth’s land areas spanning a period of more than 40 years.