Classwork in college is important, but sometimes it can be a little antiseptic. The examples offered are often textbook-driven, and while useful for information, may not always directly apply to student needs. That’s not so in one course at the University of Wyoming.
Students in the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are using satellite images showing their own family farms, and working to improve family lands with the information. The images are free from the U.S. Geological Survey and can provide multiple years of information, according to Ramesh Sivanpillai, the course instructor and the senior research scientist at the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center.
Sivanpillai notes that Landsat (a joint program of NASA and USGS) imagery is the deepest civil satellite data collection available. “USGS opening the archive has created opportunities for instructors like us to integrate students,” he says.
Two students in Sivanpillai's class shared their experiences in a University of Wyoming report recently. Jacob Disney, Sundance, Wyo., and Tyler Jones, Rozet, Wyo., applied Landsat imagery to their family properties. The two completed the course in December.
For Disney, there were incremental changes in the family operation over the last 10 years, and he worked with Sivanpillai to pull down satellite maps that covered the entire time period to review the changes.
For Jones, the exercise offered the opportunity to look at problem spots on land his family had been haying. He was able to get a look at what was happening on the ground, and work with his father on mitigation strategies.
USGS portal connects students to family land
The USGS portal contains one of the largest data archives of remotely sensed imagery in the world. Each pixel in those images represents a 100-foot-square area. Students can obtain images — and in this case, the use of family land imagery provided a solid, practical application for the data. While there is imagery of deforestation in the Amazon, or other imagery examples, students have no firsthand knowledge of the region, or on-the-ground knowledge of what’s happening.
Sivanpillai says that by providing students images of familiar ground, such as that of their parents or relatives, “they know exactly what was done on the ground. They can see how that is reflected in the images, and they can link it to what I am teaching in my lectures.”
The remote sensing class is offered in the fall; so far, Savanpillai has had students from 19 states, with most from Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho and California. He adds that the free data allow students to access as many images as needed.
Savanpillai adds that he learns as much through the exercise as his students: “They teach me how the land was managed in that part of the state [being studied], how they harvest; and explain strange patterns they find, and what that is.”
You can learn more about the program, and see videos with Jones and Disney sharing what they learned and how they applied it on family land, at the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources website.