UMass Boston Professor Selected for New Landsat Satellite Science Team

October 15, 2012

James G. Mortenson


After a highly competitive nationwide process, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has named UMass Boston Professor Crystal Schaaf, of the Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences Department (EEOS), to the Science Team of the new Landsat Data Continuity Mission Satellite, scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in February.

Now in its 40th year, the Landsat program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the USGS. Since 1972, Landsat satellites have collected imagery of Earth's continents and surrounding coastal regions, enabling researchers to study many aspects of our planet and to evaluate the dynamic changes caused by both natural processes and human practices.

“I am, of course, very honored and excited at being selected to join the mission team,” Schaaf said. “And especially delighted because this is an opportunity to train more UMass Boston students in the use of remotely sensed environmental data.”

Landsat provides images that are used for agricultural, forestry, and coastal management; insect, fire, and storm damage assessments; and urban, transportation, and water planning. The data gathered by these satellites are also used in regional agriculture, climate, and ecosystem modeling studies.

Schaaf and her UMass Boston EEOS colleague Professor ZhongPing Lee, along with Yanmin Shuai of the ERT Corporation, will develop an algorithm to establish the surface albedo of land and near-shore areas of North America. Schaaf will also work with colleagues and collaborators from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Clark University.

"Albedo describes the amount of solar energy that is reflected by the Earth’s surface. Dark waters and forests absorb a lot of energy, while bright snow and sands reflect a lot of energy,” Schaaf said. “Surface albedo is an essential climate variable governing the surface energy budget and describing the energy available to drive atmospheric, land, oceanic, and cryospheric temperature and evaporation regimes, as well vegetative evapotranspiration, photosynthesis, and carbon assimilation.”

For the next five years, Schaaf and her Science Team colleagues will produce new remotely sensed environmental data products and help shape the future of the Landsat program.