Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Laramie middle- and high-school students’ work showcased in 2012 AmericaView Fall Technical Meeting

Posters prepared by Laramie K-12 students on display in the main 
atrium of the USGS EROS Data Center, Sioux Falls, SD

Three K-12 students from Laramie had a busy summer measuring surface temperatures of natural and man-made features and the spectral reflectance values of leaves. These research activities were part of WyomingView's Earth Observation Day activities. Their findings were showcased in the 2012 AmericaView Fall Technical Meeting in Sioux Falls, SD.

Arundathi Nair, an 5th grader in the Spring Creek Elementary School explored whether man-made surfaces (roads and concrete pavement) were hotter than a natural surface (grass lawn).  Her measurements taken at 10 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm revealed that temperature of all surfaces rose to their maximum values at 1 pm.  The temperature of the road was higher than that of concrete pavement.  Grass surface had the lowest temperature, which led her to conclude that man-made surfaces were hotter than natural surfaces.

Tire mulch mat installed in this park recorded an
average temperature of 65°C (150 °F) at noon, while the
average temperature of the grass lawn and concrete
pavement were 
34°C and  25°C respectively
Sarah Arulsamy, an 8th grader in the Laramie Junior High School was also interested in how different urban features absorbed radiation at different times of the day.  She measured the surface temperature of concrete sidewalks, grass lawns, asphalt roads and tire mulch in a park (right) at 8 am, 12 am, 4 pm, and 8 pm.  She measured each features at four locations (except tire mulch which was measured at only one location) in her neighborhood on five days.  Her research revealed that the temperature of roads and pavement were higher than grass lawns at any time of the day.  She noticed that the surface of the tire mulch in the playground recorded the highest temperature 65°C (150 °F) at noon.

Changes in the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index
values of aspen and cottonwood leaves sampled in Laramie, WY
Mrudhula Baskaran a 10th grader at Laramie High School monitored spectral reflectance changes in aspen and cottonwood leaves.  Using an Alta II Reflectance Spectrometer she measured the spectral reflectance values of 10 leaves from each tree and computed the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).  She repeated these experiments on the 24th August, and the 2nd and 9th of September, 2012.  While the NDVI values of aspen trees declined during this period, the cottonwood trees showed no change.  This study helped her to see the relationship between the changes in leaf color and reflectance.

Thanks to Dr. Alan Buss, University of Wyoming, for loaning the infrared thermometer and Alta Spectroradiometer, and Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, University of Toledo, for providing the infrared thermometer used in these studies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

WyomingView conducts workshop highlighting the utility of Landsat data for natural resources monitoring

WyomingView coordinator Ramesh Sivanpillai conducted a workshop at the Cable Center in Denver, CO as part of the 2012 GIS in the Rockies Conference, highlighting remote sensing concepts and the utility of Landsat data for natural resources monitoring.  This workshop introduced GIS professionals to the characteristics of remotely sensed data and how they are collected.  Participants learned how each task required data at appropriate spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions, and the consequences of working with inappropriate data.

In the second part of the workshop, participants learned about the Landsat archive and the value of earth observation data spanning over 40+ years.  Sivanpillai explained the data characteristics of the five Landsat satellites (1-5 and 7), and how these data sets can be used for monitoring changes in the surface of the earth.  Landsat images were used to demonstrate how seasonal, annual, and long-term changes can be monitored and quantified.  Participants learned to browse and download Landsat data from GloVis (glovis.usgs.gov) – a USGS web portal.

Participants were asked to describe how they plan to use Landsat data in their future work.  One of the participants said “After this workshop, I realize that I can use Landsat for my future work in vegetation surveys … Interestingly I also realized that Landsat can be used for business, real estate, development etc.”  Another participant, a University of Northern Colorado student said “…useful when writing geographic papers (in fact before and after map)”.  While others mentioned that they planned to use Landsat data for mapping invasive species, threats to archeological resources, and avalanche forecasting.

This WyomingView educational outreach activity was conducted on 19 September 2012 (http://www.gisintherockies.org/GISITR2012/Workshops/Workshops.aspx).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Landsat images help UW Lab School students learn about Africa’s natural diversity and environmental issues

With the help of Landsat images, 17 seventh and eighth grade students learned about Africa’s immense natural resource diversity and some of its environmental problems. Tim Blum and Cady McClurg, social science teachers, wanted to introduce their students “to the idea that a study of Africa ought not to dwell on the concept of the circle of life” as popularized in Hollywood movies.  However, they did not want students “locked into the concept that Africa is just one disaster after another.”

Students saw how large, mechanized wheat farms near the Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya) reduced the natural grasslands that are crucial habitats for wildebeests; increasing population have cleared all but 1,500 acres of the original 250,000 acres of intact forest (Rwanda) and converted them to tea plantations; agricultural operations have expanded 10-fold in the Dakhla Oasis region (Egypt) that rely on waters from deep aquifers that cannot be easily recharged;  how 34 years of Kampala’s growth (Uganda) impacted adjacent forests and wetlands resulting in eutrophication of lakes (figure); growth of Moroccan cities along the Atlantic coastline; and how construction of dams resulted in less inflow and more aquatic plants in Ichkeul Lake (Tunisia).  Commenting on the value of these images Tim said “[they] helped my students grasp the idea that Africa is a very diverse continent.”

Landsat Images (the longest operating satellite remote sensing program) in this presentation were obtained from USGS and NASA websites (agencies jointly responsible for operating Landsat satellites).

These images contain a wealth of information that can be a valuable teaching resource used for to educate students about the environment and the changes caused by nature and humans.

This outreach activity was conducted on 22 May 2012 by WyomingView coordinator Ramesh Sivanpillai as part of AmericaView’s Earth Observation Day activities aimed at introducing teachers and students to remote sensing science and applications.

Image sources:
USGS: http://landsat.usgs.gov/gallery.php
NASA: http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/image

Monday, June 4, 2012

Students in Laramie Junior High’s Scientific Perspectives class learn about leaves interaction with light (or electromagnetic radiation)

Students in Ms. Julie Eakin’s eighth grade scientific perspectives class at Laramie Junior High learned how different leaves interact with light and how they appear to human eyes.

Fifteen students were introduced to the principles of electromagnetic radiation and then how a leaf’s interaction changes based on factors such as pigments (chlorophyll), water content, surface area, and stress (insect damage, for example).

Based on these concepts students developed a hypothesis for comparing the reflectance properties of each leaf.  With ALTA ™ Spectrometers, they measured the spectral reflectance in 10 different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Using standard reflectance values measured from white and black surfaces, they calculated percent reflectance for each leaf and plotted them against wavelength.

Analyses of these plots, termed the spectral signatures, revealed marked differences in the way each leaf interacted in different regions of the spectrum.  For example, a freshly cut aspen leaf and a blade of grass harvested several hours earlier had markedly different reflectance properties (figure).  Comparing results from each team, students could see how a leaf’s pigments, surface area, and vigor influenced its reflectance properties. 

This outreach activity was conducted on May 8 (2012) by Ramesh Sivanpillai, WyomingView coordinator, as part of AmericaView’s Earth Observation Day activities aimed at introducing teachers and students to remote sensing science and applications.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Satellite images monitor vegetation response in Wyoming rangelands

Article originally published in Reflections a publication of the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Publication date: June 2012; pages 26-29)

Access the issue online at: http://www.uwyo.edu/uwexpstn/publications/reflections/2012/reflections-2012-web.pdf (5.5 MB)

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Satellite images monitor vegetation response in Wyoming rangelands

Students capitalize on no-cost Landsat images to map rangeland vegetation

Rangeland vegetation responds to both environmental variations (e.g., drought, precipitation) and human interventions (e.g., grazing management). These responses can be rapid (e.g., wildfire), seasonal (e.g., grazing) or slow (e.g., invasion of non-native species).

Ranchers, land managers, and planners need periodic information about where and how changes are occurring. Collecting change information through field surveys is expensive and time-consuming and often does not provide a complete picture because only a portion of the area is sampled.

Monitor and Map Vegetation Responses

Remotely sensed images can be used for monitoring and mapping vegetation response to environmental and human influences. Since information derived from remotely sensed data is not always similar to data collected in the field, researchers have developed indices and metrics that can provide valuable insights for monitoring and mapping natural resources. With the availability of more types of remotely sensed data, new indices and metrics are also being developed for monitoring vegetation in rangelands and elsewhere.

University of Wyoming students enrolled in the Remote Sensing for Agricultural Management course are trained in the use of remotely sensed data for monitoring and mapping vegetation in rangelands and forests. In addition to learning remote sensing concepts, students are required to complete an inquiry-based research project of their choice involving use of remotely sensed data for answering questions pertaining to natural resource management.

Images Cover 100 x 100 miles

Most students use Landsat data provided by the US Geological Survey (USGS) through the GloVis website for monitoring or mapping vegetation response in rangelands, forests, and agricultural fields. Each image (referred to as a scene) covers roughly 100 miles x 100 miles on the ground and contains information in the visible and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Landsat images can be used for mapping present and past (since 1972) conditions of rangelands, forests, crop fields, lakes, and other earth surface features (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Landsat images acquired in 1999, 2002, 2005, and 2011 for an area adjacent to Keyhole Reservoir near Moorcroft demonstrate their utility for monitoring changes in natural resources such as vegetation rangeland and riparian zones and water. Intensity of green color can be associated with high (bright) and low (dark) vigor. Vegetation growth is low (few areas in green) during drought years (2002 and 2005) and relatively higher in normal and wet years (1999 and 2011). The surface area of the reservoir also fluctuates between these years as a result of natural and human influences.

Although Landsat satellites have collected data since 1972, their widespread use was somewhat limited because of the high cost associated with acquiring those images. However, since December 2008, USGS is providing all Landsat images at no-cost to users, which has generated an unprecedented opportunity for students enrolled in this class.

Students interested in rangeland management have obtained numerous Landsat images for monitoring vegetation growth and mapping changes in vegetation conditions over time. Almost all students selected ranches either their parents owned or where the students worked in the summer.

Monitors Rangeland Allotments

Selecting familiar study sites provides a unique opportunity for evaluating the utility of Landsat image information. Clint Beiermann, an agroecology major, analyzed vegetation responses in three rangeland allotments where he worked one summer. Analyses of Landsat images from May 17, June 2, June 18, and July 4, 2007, (Figure 2) showed different vegetation growth rates between allotments. Grasses and forbs grew early in the season in one type of allotment while growth was delayed in another. During the end of the growing season, differences between allotments were minimal. He concluded Landsat images can be used for routine monitoring of rangeland vegetation.

Figure 2: Landsat images acquired from May through July 2007 were used for monitoring vegetation (green) growth in allotments under different management regimes. Water in the ponds appears black, and allotment boundaries (white) were superimposed on the image. Clouds and their shadows (bottom left of July 7 image below) could limit the use of Landsat data.

Studies Grazing Effects

Having image data for the entire study area enabled identification of patterns and anomalies (areas of high, medium, and low growth). Brandon Greet, also an agroecology major, monitored the grazing impact on a ranch in the Big Horn Mountains using Landsat images from June 29, August 25, and September 17, 2008. He categorized vegetation in this rangeland into high, medium, and low vigor  and found the area of the low-vigor vegetation class increased during the growing season. Further, he noticed vegetation re-growth in September in some of the areas classified as bare ground in the August image. He generated maps that showed where these changes have occurred, which could help ranchers improve grazing by focusing cattle on under-utilized areas.

Most students (and owners of the ranches where they worked) had a general sense of the changes in vegetation composition and patterns. Visualizing those changes in Landsat images acquired several years apart sheds new light on the types and magnitude.

Researches Forage Availability

Matthew Allshouse (a rangeland and ecology management major) monitored forage availability and riparian vegetation at a ranch near Laramie (Figure 3). Over the last several years, this ranch shifted from intensive grazing to multiple-objective management. Ranch owners have implemented a rest rotation grazing regime, fenced off riparian areas, and also built a reservoir to improve riparian habitat. Allshouse obtained a Landsat image from 2001 to establish baseline vegetation conditions and used the 2006 and 2011 images for monitoring and mapping how vegetation responded to the changes in management practices.

Students gained experience processing remotely sensed data and extracting information pertinent to their research questions by working independently on
their projects. They evaluated several vegetation indices derived from Landsat
data and determined the suitability for monitoring and mapping rangeland vegetation. Over the past few years, students enrolled in this course have used Landsat and other remotely sensed data for monitoring natural resources in Wyoming and other states. Several students have also presented their research work at the Wyoming Undergraduate Research Days.

As more and more students take advantage of the no-cost Landsat data, findings from their research projects may benefit the community by providing insights about the utility and limitations of Landsat data for natural resource monitoring in Wyoming and elsewhere.

Monday, May 21, 2012

UW Students Research Value of Satellite Images for Monitoring Wyoming Resources

Source: UW Extension Service's press release
By: Steven L. Miller, Senior Editor
Date: 21 May 2012

Students at the University of Wyoming found that aspen had budded earlier in a drought year, and that surface area estimates from satellite images matched well with corresponding water levels in Woodruff Narrows Reservoir near Evanston. Other students used information derived from remotely sensed images to monitor crop growth on a southeast Wyoming wheat farm and the effects of the 2004 Basin Draw fire in northeast Wyoming. The research taught students how to use satellite images and its effectiveness.

Every spring semester, three to five students -- in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management in the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources -- conduct research using remotely sensed data on a topic of their interest, says Ramesh Sivanpillai, research scientist in the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center. He teaches the college's digital image processing for natural resources management course.

"Most of these students select the farms or ranches owned by family members or forests and public land they have worked on during summer months," he says. "Familiarity about their study areas provides them a unique advantage when analyzing and interpreting satellite images, and for conveying the findings of their study to the landowners or agencies."

Matthew Thoman of Riverton worked on a dryland winter wheat farm east of Cheyenne and was familiar with the fields. By processing Landsat images from the growing seasons of 2007 and 2009, he found growth variations within fields -- despite higher soil moisture levels in 2009 than 2007.

He will share the information with the producer, who could devise plans to correct the deficiencies, Sivanpillai says.

Brandt Schiche of Buffalo used Landsat images to glean information about surface area changes on Woodruff Narrows Reservoir. Water from the reservoir is used for irrigation, recreation and industry, and is shared between Utah and Wyoming.

"He found a significant relationship between the surface area estimates derived from Landsat images and the corresponding water levels in the reservoir," Sivanpillai says.

Jason Pindell of Wheatland used MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) data to assess differences in the growing pattern of aspen stands in the Medicine Bow National Forest. His research showed aspen put out leaves relatively earlier (bud-burst) in a drought year (2002) in comparison to the bud-burst in a normal year (2009).

Orin Hutchinson of Newcastle (pictured above) had worked with the U.S. Forest Service managing wildfires. He evaluated indices derived from Landsat images that highlighted burned (immediately) and revegetated (few years later) areas after the 2004 Basin Draw fire northwest of Aladdin in Crook County. The fire burned more than 4,500 acres in three days, but its impact and severity varied throughout the landscape.

"His results pointed out that burn severity index values were in good agreement with the data collected in the field," Sivanpillai says. "However, extraneous factors, such as precipitation and management practices, influenced the vegetation regrowth, limiting the effectiveness of satellite data for monitoring regrowth after several years."

Students presented their findings during UW's recent Undergraduate Research Day.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Sixth graders learn the value of satellite images for highlighting changes in urban areas and water bodies

Fifty-one students at Laramie Junior High School (LJHS) saw how satellite images collected since the 1970s can be used to monitor changes in cities and water bodies such as rivers and lakes. In Jared Long’s social science class, students are learning about urban growth and changes in water bodies caused by natural processes and human actions. In particular, they were comparing these changes in developed, developing and under-developed countries.

WyomingView coordinator Ramesh Sivanpillai described how satellites and aircraft are used to acquire these birds-eye images.  Using images acquired by Landsat and TERRA satellites, he demonstrated the growth of cities in the U.S., Mexico, Uganda and middle-East. These images were acquired 10-30 years apart. Students saw how cropland and forests were converted to urban areas to accommodate urban growth. Students also saw the video created by NASA that showed the yearly expansion of Las Vegas from 1974 – 2011. This video highlighted the mushrooming of Las Vegas and the addition of subdivisions, golf-courses and commercial areas. Satellite images also showed the new dams and reservoirs, changes in their water storage over time, and impacts of catastrophic events, such as flooding, can have on cities.

“Our students greatly benefited from this presentation” said Jared Long, social science teacher LJHS. “The presentation had been tailored to topics that have been addressed in our class over the course of the year, specifically how water bodies and urban areas change over time … our students' knowledge and engagement with these topics increased substantially.”

This outreach activity was conducted as part of AmericaView’s Earth Observation Day activities aimed at introducing teachers and students to remote sensing science and applications.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Introducing Laramie Junior High School Students to Remote Sensing Concepts and Applications

One hundred and fourteen students in Ron Whitman’s eight grade physical and seventh grade biological sciences classes (three class periods each on April 4th and 5th, 2012) learned how remotely sensed images are acquired in different regions of the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) and their uses for monitoring earth surface features such as trees, crops, bare ground, water, roads, buildings, etc.

WyomingView coordinator Ramesh Sivanpillai described the differences in the interaction of earth surface features with EMR, and how those interactions result in their appearances or colors.  Students learned the uses of images collected by satellites and airplanes for monitoring the effects of beetle attacks on pine trees, deforestation, crop growth, and changes in the surface areas of lakes and reservoirs.  Mr. Whitman commented that the presentation helped “students understand the use of different electromagnetic waves for practical applications.”

In the lab, students working in teams used ALTA™ Spectrometers to measure spectral reflectance in 10 different regions of EMR.  Next, they calculated percent reflectance values, which were then plotted against wavelength to generate the spectral signature for each leaf.  

Analyses of these signatures led the students to conclude that the spectral signature of each leaf was distinct.  

Hands-on lab component for measuring and calculating “percent reflectance of the four types of leaves at different wavelengths, actively engaged the students the entire lab time” Mr. Whitman said.  Sivanpillai explained the differences in the spectral signatures of different earth surface features and remote sensing scientists rely on these signatures for mapping those features.

This educational outreach activity was conducted as part of AmericaView’s Earth Observation Day activities aimed at introducing teachers and students to remote sensing science and applications.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


The Laramie River topped its banks in June 2010 Albany County as a result of snowmelt, flooding several streets and parks in the City of Laramie (more information on Laramie Boomerang). City’s Greenbelt and several properties were severely impacted as a result of this flooding event. Albany County Emergency Management personnel had to divert water upstream of Laramie to protect properties in the city.

Data collected by Thematic Mapper on the Landsat 5 satellite on 21 June 2010 (above) shows the extent of flooding (water appears black in color). Laramie River appears as a narrow, meandering feature in the 29 June 2007 (normal flow) image also acquired by Landsat 5.

Data collected by Landsat and other moderate resolution satellites can be used to gain insights about past flooding patterns and devise plans to minimize the impacts of future floods.

Landsat satellites are jointly managed by USGS (http://landsat.usgs.gov/) and NASA (http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/).

Monday, March 19, 2012


In 1867, when it was granted a permanent city charter by the Dakota Territory legislature the City of Cheyenne was home to approximately 600 people. In 2010 its population was nearly 60,000 a 100-fold increase.

Data collected by Thematic Mapper sensor (on the Landsat 5 satellite) in 1985 (1980 Pop: 47,283) and 2011 (2010 Pop: 59,466) shows Cheyenne’s growth over 26 years. Highways I-80 and I-25 cross each other in southwest Cheyenne. Most of the growth has occurred in the northern and northeastern parts of the city. Green tones correspond to vegetation such as trees, shrubs, grasses, and croplands.

Ongoing construction activities are visible in the eastern side (County Fairgrounds) and southwest side (industrial complex) of the 2011 image. Change detection using imagery can help us understand the past and better plan for the future.

The Landsat 5 satellite was launched by NASA and operated by USGS for monitoring earth’s surface.

Sources: USGS (http://landsat.usgs.gov/) and Wyoming's Economic Analysis Division (http://eadiv.state.wy.us/demog_data/cntycity_hist.htm)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Using satellite images 5th and 6th grade students in UW Lab School learn about human impact on environment

With the help of satellite images fifth and sixth grade students at Mr. Tim Blum’s geography class (photo above) at the UW Lab School (31 January 2011) got a birds-eye view of how humans have impacted or modified their environments.  Images acquired by satellites decades apart showed cleared forests, irrigated crop fields in the middle of the deserts, altered landscapes (new roads and water bodies), and urban growth. 

As part of the Earth Observation Day (EOD) activities, WyomingView coordinator Ramesh Sivanpillai described the utility of images acquired by satellites are useful for monitoring changes on earth’s surface.   

For example, Landsat images acquired in 2000 (bottom left) and 2009 (bottom right) shows the newly constructed roads, drilling pads, and ponds for an area within the Powder River Basin.

The goal of EOD activities is to introduce teachers and students to remote sensing science and technology and is promoted by AmericaView.  Sivanpillai works with individual teachers in Laramie-area schools and develops remote sensing course materials that relate to the topics taught to students.

Blum and his student teachers introduced students to the human impact on the environment.  The remote sensing “presentation fit with our curriculum and the students were captivated,” Blum commented.  “Your presentation certainly made an impression on our students because the information you provided was referenced in several discussions that occurred later in our unit.”  Tailoring materials to individual class needs increases student engagement and learning.