Like many kids, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology Professor Phil Townsend grew up wanting to be an astronaut. And even though he’s not walking on the surface of the moon or floating in the International Space Station, his work at UW-Madison is beneficial to NASA’s climate-change operations. Specifically, he is assisting in their mission to use their satellite observation capabilities to understand how rising temperatures and sea levels are affecting life on earth.
That’s because Professor Townsend has a deep understanding of what’s called “remote-sensing technology.” Remote-sensing technology combines all of NASA’s earth-observing information to understand the distribution and function of vegetation, movement of the glaciers, and weather patterns on a global scale. Together, this data helps NASA scientists monitor the “vital signs” of the planet.
Working alongside astronauts within the agency, Professor Townsend is helping develop a greater knowledge base of the potential of this remote-sensing technology. Techniques such as understanding how to measure biological processes and their variation on earth, what sorts of existing technologies can help these observations, and what new developments can be brought to the field (both on earth, and above it).
UW-Madison is a place where innovation is a pursuit in and of itself. We don’t always know where our work will lead—and sometimes it takes us straight off the planet.