In academic, professional and personal endeavors, Utah State University professor Doug Ramsey has pursued varied interests and opportunities in varied places. Born in Utah, he spent part of his childhood in Brazil, his mother’s homeland, and part in Georgia. In college, his majors morphed from horticulture to range management to plant ecology and finally geography."
“There was no master plan,” Ramsey told family and friends who joined him Oct. 30 at the President’s Home for the third talk in Utah State University’s 2007-08 Inaugural Professor Lecture Series. The series highlights the accomplishments of university faculty who have been promoted to full professor in the past year.
As a researcher who studies ‘the big picture,’ Ramsey’s admission seems somewhat ironic. A professor in the College of Natural Resources’ Department of Wildland Resources, Ramsey heads USU’s Remote Sensing/Geographic Information Systems Laboratory. His work with data collection and satellite imagery routinely yields a bird’s eye view of the Earth and its intricate ecosystems.
Ramsey entered the study of remote sensing and GIS while pursuing his doctorate at the University of Utah in the mid-80s. “Back then the technology was not easily available to allow you to view the imagery on computer screens,” he says. “Systems were very expensive and difficult to integrate.”
Fast forward 20 years and a veritable deluge of data – much of it free – is available through the Web at the touch of keyboard. “It’s a time when we’re almost drowning in data but it’s also an exciting time,” says Ramsey, who joined USU’s faculty in 1989. “You can literally view your own backyard – maybe even see yourself standing in your backyard – from space.”
Ramsey says his work with remote sensing and GIS technology illuminated his prior knowledge of range management and plant ecology. “I had learned all these things but, suddenly, with satellite imagery, I could actually see it,” he says. “It’s an amazing research tool.”
Among the research projects Ramsey has initiated at USU’s RS/GIS Lab is Virtual Utah
, a Web site offering an online library of aerial imagery of the state. Visitors can view and overlay varied geographic datasets including satellite images, land cover, elevation data and more.
Other projects pursued by students and staff at the lab include mapping of wildlife species and their habitats, spatial analysis of plants, animals, forests and rangelands; digital geologic mapping and assisting in the development of a fiscal impacts illustrator to aid local government planning.
“It’s mind boggling what the technology provides and what it will be able to provide us in the future,” Ramsey says. “The technology is already a critical tool for applications ranging from urban planning and precision agriculture to global climate modeling.”
In the future, he anticipates autonomous vehicles – that is, cars, planes and trains that drive themselves – along with airborne cell phone towers “which will provide uninterrupted line-of-sight communications as well as a remote sensing platform,” he says.
Already used to track locations of shipments, objects and vehicles, Global Positioning Systems or GPS could help parents keep track of their kids. No more fun, fun, fun now that Daddy knows you really didn’t take the T-bird to the library after all.
“Everything and everyone’s life will be information-driven,” Ramsey says. “Technology is enabling equipment to get smaller and smaller while increasing data capacity. Most any hare-brained idea people can come up with that is geographic in nature could be realized.”