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Satellite imagery: UW scientist shares benefits of remote sensing applications

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Satellite imagery

UW scientist shares benefits of remote sensing applications

University of Wyoming Research Scientist Ramesh Sivanpillai instructs courses at UW on remote sensing applications for agricultural and natural resources management. Remote sensing is the process of detecting and monitoring an area by measuring its reflected radiation at a distance, typically from satellite, aircraft or any elevated platform such as balloons and kites.

He also manages the program WyomingView, which is part of AmericaView, a national program currently present in 41 U.S. states. AmericaView advances Earth observation education through remote sensing science, applied research, workforce development, technology transfer and community outreach.

“The goal of this program is to promote remote sensing data and applications in a broader sense,” he says. “I do kindergarten through 12th grade outreach, work with college students and government agency folks, and I also work with producers in Wyoming through the students enrolled in the remote sensing courses.”

Sivanpillai informs producers on how remote sensing can benefit their operations through crop and rangeland monitoring. 

Remote sensing

Sivanpillai says remote sensing is advancing for the better. 

“There are so many ways to look at the earth now,” he says. “Nowadays, drones are so popular and they have caught a lot of people’s attention.” 

Sivanpillai mentions long before drones, data was collected by strapping a camera to balloons or kites to get a bird’s-eye view. This imagery data can be traced all the way back to the First World War.

“With the availability of satellite images dating back to the early 1970s, there’s ability to go back years in time and look at data – it’s the main advantage ,” he says. 

“I teach the concepts behind remote sensing – why things appear in the way they are in the images,” he says. “Since we are used to looking at fields from the human eye, those images may look a little different or odd, because they are acquired in regions not visible to human eyes.”

Sivanpillai also helps producers understand how remote sensing data can be used to view crop growth, rangeland vegetation, map-burned areas following wildfires, etc.

Landsat and benefits

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat program provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land in existence. Landsat data provides information essential for making informed decisions about Earth’s resources and environment.

Landsat-data-based decisions impact food and water management and is utilized by many U.S. producers, crop consultants and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Producers rely on the unbiased, accurate and timely information provided by Landsat satellites to better their operations.

Landsat data allows producers to analyze the health and vigor of crops as they mature over the growing season; the needs of identifying specific areas of fields for fertilizer, irrigation and rotation; planted acreage to forecast crop production; how much water is used in irrigation; and the impacts of drought.

Sivanpillai says producers have had concerns on how detailed the images are and if privacy may be an issue.

“The images are not something where we can see individual houses, because with each pixel, the smallest detail we can get is 100 feet by 100 feet,” he says.

Farmers are unable to have a bird’s-eye perspective of their fields when they scout from the ground on foot, Sivanpillai says.

Remote sensing allows farmers to spot variations in crop growth, range health, presence of invasive species, etc., he says, and the bird’s-eye perspective offers a more detailed picture of the extent of the problem and where problem areas are.

“When standing on the ground looking horizontally, your eyes can only see so far and if the crop vegetation is high, then it is very limiting for us to see or to get the big picture view of what is happening in the field,” he says.

Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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