Esri online Change Matters application providing free access to 35 years of Landsat data
Kass Green working on the Gates Foundation project in Ethiopia
Final map of phase one of the Grand Canyon project
Field data collection in the Grand Canyon
By Natalie Cutsforth Writer and Geospatial Consultant Denver, Colo.
Kass Green has been a leading voice for remote sensing and GIS for over twenty years. She currently is president of Kass Green & Associates, a consultancy firm that focuses on implementing cutting-edge remote sensing and GIS technologies to better monitor and manage the earthís natural resources. Her past endeavors include cofounding and leading Pacific Meridian Resources and serving as president of Space Imaging Solutions. Green serves on the boards of several advisory committees, including the Department of Interiorís National Geospatial Advisory Committee, NASAís Applied Sciences Advisory Group, as well as University of California at Berkeleyís Foundation Board of Trustees, the College of Natural Resources Advisory Committee, and Geospatial Information Facility Advisory Committee. Well published in the geospatial technology field, Green coauthored the textbook Assessing the Accuracy of Remotely Sensed Data with Russ Cogalton. Past president of American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and the Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS), she is being honored with the ASPRS Fellow Award for exceptional service in advancing the mapping science and for service to the society at the ASPRS 2011 Annual Conference in May. See Figure 1.
Imaging Notes (IN) How did you initially get involved in the remote sensing industry, given your undergrad degree was in Forestry?
Kass Green (KG) I was a natural resource economist and policy analyst. It became clear that most policy is about place, at least if you are interested in the environment. At Hammon Jensen and Wallen (HJW Geospatial, a division of Photo Science in Oakland, Calif.) they wanted to buy a GIS but they didnít know which one to buy. They decided that since I was an economist I could do the analysis. To do anything in policy in natural resources you have to have a map of vegetation. The easiest way to make a map of vegetation is using remote sensing. I ended up going into remote sensing. I was born to do this; there is no doubt in my mind. It comes so naturally for me to work with imagery and to think about making maps.
IN How have you contributed to the photogrammetry industry?
KG Weíve always been on the cutting edge of the science. Somebody might discover something at a university and if we think itís going to work in the operational environment with one of our clients we implement it right away. When we started Pacific Meridian (now part of GeoEye, Dulles, Va.), we were the first company that was using Landsat data to make maps for the Forest Service in an operational setting. Now we are using and object-oriented image classification and NAIP imagery (National Agriculture Imagery Program, see related article). Weíve not been afraid to tell everybody what we are doing and publish what we are doing. We push our methods out immediately.
On the political side, being an articulate voice for Landsat has been really important. All remote sensing is critically important for land management. We need to do a better job of managing land throughout the world. We need to understand the tradeoffs Ė what first world countries are asking third world countries to do that we didnít ask ourselves to do a hundred years ago. The U.S. totally converted its forests in the east and midwest to agriculture 200 years ago. It was a source of considerable wealth for this country. Yet, we are dismayed and upset when developing countries do the same thing today.
If we want developing countries to not convert their forests to agriculture, we, the developed world, need to pay them to do so. We need to understand globally the impacts of our decisions. Being a voice for remote sensing is important because it is a voice for our environment and the future of humanity.
A website we just built for Esri (Redlands, Calif.) accesses the global land survey data from Landsat 1975, 1990, 2000, 2005 and there will be 2010 data. Esri has all that imagery on its cloud. Using their image services you can access it instantly, you can change the bands, but more importantly you can look at it over time. The app we wrote, when itís released, will allow anybody globally to do change detection on their own. Itís really easy to use, and itís free. It works on an iPad or on a computer. See Figure 2. What Iím hoping is that this immediate access to imagery and being able to see the impact across the landscape will be an eye opener to people. I work on things like that because I want to make access to remote sensing data really easy for the everyday person. There is total transparency, with remote sensing. You canít hide things that you are doing to people or to the landscape. Thatís a really good thing.
IN What else are you working on now?
KG Weíre one-third of the way through mapping the vegetation of Grand Canyon National Park. Weíre also mapping the National Parks of the Pacific Islands. I have a contract with the Gates Foundation to see how remote sensing can be used to better estimate crop production in sub-Saharan Africa. See Figure 3. The foundation is zoning in on a country to give a grant to do more methodology development. That has been an incredibly rewarding project.
Weíre mapping vegetation to whatís called the association level in the Grand Canyon so that the Park Service can manage the land. We have NAIP imagery from two different airborne cameras. It has only four bands, (Landsat has seven bands) red, green, blue, and nearĖinfrared, but the radiometric resolution is striking. It sees into shadows. And weíve got WorldView-2 (DigitalGlobe in Longmont, Colo.) imagery for Hawaii and American Samoa.
We tend to be a profession of scientists who are mostly introverted, so we donít speak out as much as we should. This profession has very important things to say about monitoring over time, what is the impact of future decisions, and modeling those future decisionsí impacts. We need to not be so shy, not be afraid to go up on the hill and lobby Congress.
The first thing we do is segment the imagery into polygons. We use eCognition (Trimble, Broomfield, Colo.) software. Then we go to the field with the segments and the imagery plus all the ancillary data. Weíve got roads, streams, slope aspect elevation. In the Grand Canyon weíll have radar. We take samples across the landscape of all the different vegetation types. When we get back to the office, we drop those samples through the imagery but also through every piece of ancillary data we can get our hands on. We use whatís called a classification and regression tree algorithm, which automatically takes the samples and builds rules about the land cover type. Thatís one of the things that I love, being right up on the edge and using cutting edge methods for an area thatís the size of the Grand Canyon. See Figure 4.
IN Where do you see the industry headed? There seems to be a lot of consolidation happening.
KG The high resolution airborne data acquisition that was all film is moving to almost completely digital. Those digital systems cost a lot of money and you have to be a larger company to be able to front that. Thatís one of the reasons you are seeing the consolidation.
Thereís always going to be a market for film or less expensive digital in local market niches. Cities want to go to their local aerial photography firm and get the high-resolution film product that they need; digital is too coarse. That part of the industry is going in two different directions. One will be large companies like Furgo EarthData (Fredrick, Md.) and Photo Science (Lexington, Ky.) and Sanborn (Colorado Springs, Colo.), who have the financial backing to buy new cameras and LiDAR systems, and the other direction is smaller film-based companies that are fulfilling the local niche.
The software has got to get easier to use. Itís just too hard. Thatís one great thing that Google Earth (Mountain View, Calif.) did. It gave people access to imagery easily. I can see Esri moving in that direction. I hope other companies move in that direction. The software needs to be easier to use so we can go after a broader base.
IN How do you see GIS playing a role in global politics and economics?
KG We have to play a role. Google Earth has helped with that, and hopefully this change detection app that Esri is coming out with will help significantly. People will be able to see the impact of their management decisions. We tend to be a profession of scientists who are mostly introverted, so we donít speak out as much as we should. This profession has very important things to say about monitoring over time, what is the impact of future decisions, and modeling those future decisionsí impacts.
We need to not be so shy, not be afraid to go up on the hill and lobby Congress. My very first job right out of college was as a lobbyist for the environmental movement. It made me realize that people in Washington D.C. really work hard, and that even a young individual can make a difference if he is willing to communicate with the people who govern the country.
In Egypt, it wasnít remote sensing that made those changes but it certainly was Twitter (San Francisco, Calif.) and Facebook (Palo Alto, Calif.) and I think remote sensing could play the same role. A tenet of democracy is free information, and remote sensing helps provide that.
Iím pretty excited about the Presidentís budget around creating a Landsat program. All of our Landsat satellites have been one-offs. They build it, they launch it, then they have to go raise money for a new one. Finally the administration has put forth a budget that includes $48 million for the beginning of a Landsat Continuity Program. Much like the weather satellite program, we donít have to go to Congress every year to ask them to launch more weather satellites. Itís a budget line. I donít know if itís going to make it through this Congress but Iíll do everything I can to help support it.
IN How has your long-term involvement with ASPRS contributed to the companies with which you have worked over the years?
KG The best science is coming out through the sessions. At every ASPRS meeting, I learn something new scientifically. You hear a person talk and can go up and meet them. You get to meet the movers and shakers in the profession. Itís a really nice community. They reach out to students, young people starting new careers. Itís a great place to network. I learn more in the exhibit hall than anywhere, because the exhibitors are doing new things, but they tend not to write scientific papers about it. ASPRS has been really critical to my success.