Several years ago, while looking at some satellite pictures of Northwest Ohio, Anita Simic noticed that not all plots of land with the same crops were the same color. Today, she and her students at Bowling Green State University are farmers, so they can determine why those crops are different.
As a Bowling Green State University professor in the School of Earth, Environment and Society, Simic runs the Geospatial Laboratories called the G-ECO Remote Sensing Lab. Using that lab as a base, her goal is to build the next generation of remote sensing scientists.
Remote sensing is learning something about things without touching them. Simic does her remote sensing with satellites, aerial drones and airplanes. She works with government organizations that have acronyms for names: NASA, NOOA and the ODNR, and also values her relationships with private industry, like Satelytics, Toledo.
"If you have a different structure, you have different reflectants," Simic said. While aerial photography has been around almost as long as photography, with hot air balloons taking cameras up into the sky, the spectraradiameters Simic uses work with digital processors. If you think of every object as a disco ball, reflecting light waves that can be assigned numbers, then the world can be interpreted as reflectants. Those reflectants can be assigned any color on the printout of the image.
Simic has made a career of working with colors. Those printouts can look like strange modern art, as it did in September during the BGSU "Spatial Literacy Through Art" exhibit, where Simic's students displayed printouts of their studies as an art exhibit in the student union.
The real reason for remote sensing is for practical purposes, the art related to the skill is in playing with the assignment of colors so the information given by the images will be most easily interpreted by the human mind.
With the initial farm crop study Simic jokingly said, "I did a top down analysis for that study." It was all done with the Landsat satellites and the computers in her office. "It's free data. You load and process."
The results were serious. She found that chlorophyll levels between fields and in predictable patterns based on elevation within the same field were varying within single crops. It all had to do with the chemical treatments being used on the crops and how and when they were being applied.
That initial study, done in the privacy of an office with a single computer and data from a satellite, led to Simic and her students becoming farmers. For several summers they have planted crops on fields where they have studied those variables. Beyond the questions about efficiency of application and speed of growth, they can also track the changes in chlorophyll levels along watersheds. She and her students have come up with a number of related studies based on those results.
Simic loves working with young people. Her interest in new ideas is contagious and her students are coming up with new ones all the time. They have worked on studies of Lake Erie shore wetlands, to the Kenyan Kakamega Rainforest. Applications for those results can impact each other. They are now using a drone to supplement the scans they get from the Landsat satellites. One way to lower the volume of particulates in the air that can cause remote sensing errors is to go below them, with drones they can do that.
She has another student who is studying the Lake Erie algal bloom and its relationship to sediments. "He's trying to see how deep he can see through sediments with satellites."
A recent remote sensing workshop she held at BGSU included high school students. "I feel young students work better with their closely aged peers," Simic said. Part of that program had the high school students working with BGSU undergraduate students, who in turn worked with graduate students. Some of those graduate students have already moved up into the next level of study, or into the job world. That also impacts the local economy, as some have stayed in Northwest Ohio to work with companies as close as Satelytics.