The 21st annual William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium and the 38th International Symposium for Remote Sensing and Environment (ISRSE) convened in Baltimore, Maryland from October 6-11, 2019. This year’s theme, “Continuous Monitoring of Our Changing Planet – from Sensors to Decisions,” provided an excellent opportunity for Harvest and our partners to showcase ongoing Earth observation (EO) in agriculture research and applications and highlight how EO data informs policy and decision-making efforts. Over the course of the meeting, several of our partners and collaborators presented their work on crop monitoring initiatives, cloud architecture prototyping, remote sensing technology advancements, empowered decision-making, women in remote sensing, agriculture and forest monitoring, vegetation assessments, and capacity development.
After a welcome address by Barbara Ryan, winner of the 2018 Pecora Award for her work to make remote sensing data free and available to all, Gilberto Camara of Brazil’s INPE and Secretariat Director for the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) spoke about the big-picture needs of the global EO community: global experts generating shared knowledge, supported by multi-satellite data, in-situ observations stored on cloud platforms, and strong multilateral institutions.
Several sessions that followed focused on crop type monitoring and cropland mapping initiatives. Vivana Zalles from UMD’s GLAD group summarized changes in South American crops over 30-plus years using Landsat data, with clear evidence of cropland expansion in Brazil. Rick Mueller of USDA NASS gave an update on the National Cropland Data Layer program. Lisa Colson and Katie McGaughey of USDA FAS presented on monitoring croplands using field data and the Global Agricultural & Disaster Assessment System (GADAS), and Dave Johnson of USDA gave an overview of annual field-level crop yield assessments using Landsat data.
NASA Harvest’s session focused on leveraging and enhancing the collective efforts of its partners in furthering the use of remote sensing in agriculture decision-making. The session, moderated by Mike Humber of the University of Maryland’s Harvest Hub, opened with an introduction to the NASA Harvest program by Science Lead Christopher Justice, who outlined some of the high-level programmatic goals including: developing and implementing agricultural applications with a wide range of stakeholders; connecting actors across NASA Applied Sciences and research programs; and demonstrating the socioeconomic value of EO for agriculture. Brian Barker, also of UMD’s Harvest Hub, presented on the international consensus process and system for creating GEOGLAM’s monthly Crop Monitor for AMIS and Crop Monitor for Early Warning. Kaiyu Guan from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign described his team’s work in using remote sensing to model the whole agroecosystem (carbon from crop yield, water, and nutrient cycles), focusing on the U.S. Corn Belt. Greg Husak from UC Santa Barbara’s Climate Hazard Center profiled advances in their CHIRPS tools for providing early warning for food insecurity and related capacity building efforts, and Amy McNally described how the FEWS NET Land Data Assimilation System can forecast water availability for agriculture. Nate Torbick from Applied GeoSolutions closed out the session with details on their Crop-MRV platform that integrates EO data, process-based crop and hydrologic modeling, and partnerships with farmers to better understand ag conservation practices.
Alyssa Whitcraft, Harvest’s Associate Director and Manager, presented on the NASA Harvest Consortium at the Hyperwall, emphasizing that part of Harvest’s mission is to advance the adoption of Earth observation data by connecting partners across the globe, encouraging coordinated activities, and ultimately creating a sum that is greater than its individual projects.
Alyssa also shared her experiences and challenges working as a woman in the remote sensing field in a session on that topic with Bobbi Lenczowski of AmericaView, NGA, NIMA, Kass Green of Kass Green & Associates, Birgit Peterson of USGS’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, and Barbara Ryan of GEO, WMO, USGS, and CEOS.
Using stories to better communicate science and connect with decision-makers was another clear call at Pecora, with talks on the impact of NASA’s ARSET program by Ana Prados from UMBC and NASA ARSET, on building trust and providing content as a service by Kevin Ward from NASA Earth Observatory, on the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit by David Herring of NOAA’s Climate Program Office, and on the challenges of delivering real-time actionable climate information to non-experts and decision-makers by Dave Jones of StormCenter Communications. The overriding message was that to design better remote sensing products and applications, the remote sensing community needs to work with decision-makers and start with a clear understanding of the decision they need to make.
The themes of “democratizing” Earth observation information through open access and tailoring the design of applications to new users and their different needs was also front and center throughout the conference. The fact that we no longer need supercomputer clusters to process single satellite scenes means that these data are now being used by people through all sectors - people who those of us in the remote sensing community don’t even talk to. In sum, we need to do a better job of helping them use EO data to solve real-world problems.
The table below details the Harvest and Harvest-related partner presentations held throughout the conference. (*Denotes Harvest-led session).