homepage uahuntsville website


Our faculty encourages students to be involved in a wide range of research projects, collaborative initiatives, internships, and programs that are available through UAHuntsville and its partners.   Our students investigate contemporary questions in the Earth Sciences by leveraging the skills they learn in their GIS and Remote Sensing (RS) courses, along with practical experience from study abroad programs and internships.

Our students have received fellowships to study abroad at several locations including the University of Rostock, in Germany, at CATHALAC in the City of Knowledge in Panama, and at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute in Panama.  Students who focus in GIS & RS are regularly accepted to NASA’s DEVELOP internship program at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, have participated in summer GIS internships at Huntsville’s Planning & GIS Department, and gotten jobs and graduate research assistantships through NASA’s SERVIR Program.

For their senior thesis (capstone projects), majors in Earth Systems Science within the GIS & RS track will often work with researchers at the NSSTC, obtaining real-world experience while completing their degree.  The ESS Program also collaborates with our regional partner in Central America, the Center for Water Resources in the Humid Tropics (CATHALAC), to conduct an annual summer research and study abroad program in the Republic of Panama.  This program provides a unique opportunity for our GIS & RS students to get additional real-world experience in the application of geospatial technology for environmental decision-making.

Through a focus on student involvement in ongoing research projects, we improve technical capabilities as well as communication skills to make our students highly competitive in today’s high-tech workforce.  Our graduates have gone on to receive funding for graduate programs in Hydrology and Earth Systems Science as well as work for Applied Science programs at NASA. 

Our upper-level students conduct independent guided research into a variety of Earth System Science topics using GIS and Remote Sensing tools and data. These "Capstone Research" projects are supervised by department faculty members and affiliate researchers, and are aimed to broaden the research base of our graduating seniors. They are an integral part of our program and especially in the GIS & RS track. Up to date information about Senior Capstone project guidelines is available here.

Learn how our students are applying GIS and remote sensing:

Undergraduate Students

Casey Calamaio
My interests have always revolved environmental and planetary sciences. I originally came to UAH in 2008 as an aerospace engineering student and later found the perfect niche in the Earth System Science department with the GIS/Remote Sensing specialty track. Through academic programs and research partnerships at UAH, I have traveled to Panam∑ three times conducting real-world research studying the natural history of the Panama Canal Zone and measuring deforestation over time with historical photographs and satellite images. I will return to Panama a fourth time in conjunction with a three-month research fellowship through the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute investigating an invasive species of grass. UAH also now partners with the University Of Rostock in Rostock, Germany where, at the time of writing this, I am spearheading the student exchange program. In addition to experiencing the German culture and exploring central and northern Europe, I have been able to continue my studies in remote sensing and GIS with Rostock professors. I have also been given the opportunity to learn about and participate in the research of unmanned aerial systems and photogrammetry, which since starting in the remote sensing track has become a personal interest of mine. The UAV systems used in Germany are used extensively in precision farming capable of gathering real-time data quickly and accurately providing me an excellent introduction to this technology. It has also been beneficial as a student to learn a skill I am comfortably proficient in, such as GIS and image processing, in a foreign language and picking up the scientific speech of German that I had not learned in language courses. Contact Casey.

Kirstin Cooksey
The facilities and opportunities provided by the Earth Systems Science program at UAH have given me opportunities to do real world research through the NASA DEVELOP Program. This program has allowed me to assert the tools I've learned in my remote sensing and GIS classes to areas in which I'm very dedicated and passionate about. This spring term 2012, I participated in three research groups with the NASA DEVELOP program. I worked with my fellow teammates and leaders to asses vegetative changes in tornado paths and economical impacts tornadoes have on the Alabama economy; identify bioaerosols in dust storms in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia; and lastly, create a habitat suitability for oyster reefs in Mobile Bay, Alabama. The ESS department at UAH and opportunities like NASA DEVELOP allow me to receive incredible education and apply that valuable education in responsibly to real world research utilizing satellite data. Contact Kirstin.

Brad Barrick
I first began utilizing Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing for environmental research in ESS 413: GIS and Remote Sensing. My work involved manipulating NASA MODIS satellite imagery to visualize the extent of hydrogen sulfide emissions in coastal Namibia. This process of hydrogen sulfide deposition, although completely natural, has serious implications for Namibians in terms of quality of life and food supply. A unique component of this course required that each student compose a 'micro-article' that is then peer-reviewed and subsequently published in the online Journal of Earth Science Phenomena. My next opportunity for research in the field of Earth System Science occurred during the Summer 2011 UAHuntsville Research and Study Abroad Program in Panama. In addition to earning six credit hours, I conducted sustainability research that utilized GIS and remote sensing data and analysis. This research was presented at three subsequent forums in Panama City, Panama and Huntsville. Later in 2011, I had the opportunity to assist in a joint UAHuntsville/ Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute project that utilized satellite imagery and historical aerial photographs to map and analyze land cover and land use change in the Panama Canal Zone. Starting in Spring of 2012, I joined the NASA DEVELOP program that is now centered at UAHuntsville's National Space Science and Technology Center. With guidance from Earth System Science faculty and NASA scientists I participated in two projects that used NASA satellite imagery to address issues of community and global concern. One of the projects involved the use of NASA ASTER imagery to map and quantify the extent of the April 27th, 2011 tornado outbreak that devastated Alabama and the surrounding areas. The other project made use of NASA MODIS imagery to quantify the atmospheric dispersion of bioaerosols that have been linked to new-onset pulmonary disorders experienced by US service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The GIS and Remote sensing component of the Earth System Science department at UAHuntsville has allowed me to participate in a range of research that has the opportunity to improve our understanding of the natural world and improve our relationship to it. Contact Brad.

James Brenton
James Brenton graduated from Texas A&M University in December 2009 with a degree in Meteorology. He is finishing his second bachelorís degree in Earth System Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and is expecting to graduate in August 2012. James will start his graduate work in the fall of 2012 at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he will continue his research started his> senior year. He has been using his knowledge of climate and environmental conditions and computer programming to assist others in their research. This spring semester, he has learned the Python programming language to create custom tools for the ArcGIS suite of programs for the SERVIR research team to help disseminate data that was only available online. James has also been interning with the NASA DEVELOP program. Here, he assisted his research team by writing code in Python that automated the ArcGIS commands and operations within the methodology of their research. James looks forward to combining his knowledge of environmental issues, computer programming, and geospatial technologies at the University of Alabama in Huntsville as he begins his work towards his Masterís degree. Contact James.

MS Students

Eric Anderson
Eric is a Graduate Research Assistant in the Earth System Science program who works under SERVIR Project Director Dan Irwin of NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center. Eric's research interests include natural disasters, GIS and remote sensing, and science in decision making. His master's research is on the integration of satellite-based, modeled and in situ data for improved landslide hazard monitoring in El Salvador. He also enjoys teaching and is actively involved in the Earth Science Student Association (ESSA). Contact Eric.




Melanie Phillips
Originally from East Tennessee, I moved to Huntsville in 2007 to begin my undergraduate degree. Originally a physics major, I made the switch to earth system science in 2009 and received a B.S. from UAHuntsville in May 2011. I am currently working on a masterís degree in earth system science with a focus in GIS and human dimensions. Upon completion, I plan to pursue a career in GIS and remote sensing with an organization focusing on sustainable development and policy implementation. I am working with NASAís SERVIR to complete my thesis work which involves using GIS and remote sensing technology to determine the environmental and economic effects of reforestation over areas in southern India. Atmospheric numerical modeling will also be used to produce long-term environmental prediction models. This model will function as a template for future reforestation analyses. Once results have been made, this information will be given to both NGOís and governmental organizations to update and improve environmental policy and education. Contact Melanie.

Claire Herdy
Claire Herdy is a graduate student in the Earth System Science (ESS) program at UAHuntsville. Her research focuses on understanding the components of the environment that are most productive and sustainable and is passionate about educating her community about sustainability and food security. As an undergraduate in the ESS program she gathered research experience in the UAH sponsored study abroad program in Panama. She now applies the sustainable ideas learned in the classroom managing the UAHuntsville Community Garden, which provides a space for education and discussion around the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability. She also uses the skills taught in the MS program to lead undergraduates in a NASA sponsored internship held on UAHuntsville campus, spreading the use of geospatial technologies and benefits of NASA EOS data. Additionally her work with SERVIR, regional visualization and monitoring network, helps disseminate the decision making skills and data society and the environment and developing countries internationally. Contact Claire.

Africa Flores
Africa is from Guatemala, where she earned a B.S. in Agronomy with emphasis in Renewable Natural Resources from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. She later worked as a GIS & Remote Sensing specialist in charge of the GIS unit at the National Protected Areas Council (CONAP). She then worked in Panama at the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC) as a Research Scientist under the SERVIR project. Africa is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Earth System Science at UAHuntsville where she continues to work with the SERVIR project. Her advisor is Dan Irwin from NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center. She is interested in and contributes to the development of capacities in Mesoamerica for the better implementation of remote sensing and GIS technologies in the decision making processes. Her research interests include applications of remote sensing and GIS for environmental monitoring, disaster management, and climate change adaptation. Her master's research focuses on the use of hyperspectral image interpretation for water quality analyses, where she works closely with governmental institutions and universities in Guatemala. Contact Africa.

Tiffany Keeton
Tiffany is originally from South Carolina and earned a B.S. degree in Earth System Science with a focus in Atmospheric Science from UAHuntsville. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Earth System Science with a focus in GIS and remote sensing. She is currently a project lead with the NASA DEVELOP internship and is researching public health in Kuwait. Tiffany’s research interests include GIS and remote sensing, renewable energy, and El Niño. Her master’s research focuses on forecasting corn yields during droughts in Jalisco, Mexico. Tiffany plans to pursue a career in GIS and remote sensing with an organization focusing on urban sustainability. She is also actively involved in Earth System Science community garden and Earth Science Student Association (ESSA). Contact Tiffany.

Some examples of past research by our students include:

  • Exploring the Association Between Terrestrial Environmental Parameters and Tornado genesis in Alabama through the use of NASA EOS

  • Geospatially Detecting Saccharum sponteneum: An Invasion of the Panama Canal Watershed

  • Implementing Precision Agriculture in Central America: How Ingenio Santa Rosa Can Utilize Satellite Data as a Management Tool to Improve Sugarcane Yields

  • Comparing Ingenio Santa Rosa Precipitation Data to TRMM and HyroEstimator Data for El Nino and Normal Years in Panama

  • Pacific Fisheries Vulnerability

  • Extreme Weather Events and the Vulnerability of Communities in Eastern Panama

  • Improving Land Cover Modeling Using Historical Aerial Photographs in the Panama Canal Watershed