GRSS: Present Status and the Way Forward

In this, my last message, I would first like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to serve you as IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society (GRSS) president during 2017 and 2018. It has required a lot of work, but all of it was done with the conviction that I could contribute to the benefit of our Society and profession. It has also been a pleasure to work with such a dedicated and enthusiastic team as the Administrative Committee (AdCom) to create new opportunities for our members on every continent. When I visited the GRSS Chapters in China and South America, I felt very welcome. Thanks to lively and stimulating discussions, I got to know their reality a little bit better, making me think about ways to address their specific issues. We will see in the future if we have succeeded.


Current progress

The GRSS has made significant progress in a number of areas over the past two years. This would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of AdCom members and many anonymous volunteers and reviewers who have devoted a substantial amount of time for the benefit of our profession. My sincere thanks to all!

As these advances rely on the hard work of previous generations, it is only right to publicly acknowledge that, thanks to the work of our immediate past GRSS presidents, Prof. Melba Crawford and Prof. Kamal Sarabandi, and past GRSS chief financial officer, Dr. Jim Smith, our budget was able to grow significantly. This has allowed us to make current investments in new initiatives to better serve our membership. Our Society’s financial stability is also a result of conservative management of operational finances and the fact that our flagship conference, the IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS), and our publications are in a healthy financial state. Thus, we have been able to invest the surplus generated and use a portion of GRSS reserves to accomplish numerous projects and initiatives.

Memoranda of Understanding

During these two years, we have worked to continue and strengthen our collaboration with other technical societies or institutions, and a number of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) have been signed or renewed, including ones with the following:

  • the DigitalGlobe Foundation, to grant GRSS students access to DigitalGlobe’s very-high-resolution imagery and information products
  • the International Society for Digital Earth Conference of Digital Belt and Road
  • the African Association of Remote Sensing for the Environment
  • the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development in Kenya
  • the Asociación Española de Teledetección in Spain
  • the Sociedad Latinoamericana en Percepción Remota y Sistemas de Información Espacial in Latin America
  • the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS).

This last MoU has a special significance because it is the first time that the two largest professional societies in the field of remote sensing have joined technical and financial resources in the organization of a joint conference, the Latin America GRSS and ISPRS Remote Sensing Conference (LAGIRS). The first LAGIRS will be held in the third week of March 2020 at the Universidad de Chile, Santiago, and will follow the IGARSS model, rotating between different countries and held biennially. For the first LAGIRS, the expected attendance is between 300 and 400.

Expanded Conference Portfolio

The GRSS conference portfolio will also include two other regional IGARSSs. First, the Mediterranean and Middle-East Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (M2GARSS) will be held in Tunis, Tunisia, during the second week of March 2020, with an expected attendance of 200–250. Second, the Indian Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (InGARSS) will be held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, during the first week of December 2020, with an expected attendance of 300–500.

In addition to these three new regional IGARSSs, each with the aim of better local engagement, the GRSS’s portfolio of small conferences now includes the Global Navigation Satellite System Work shop on Reflectometry (GNSS+R), using GNSS signals and other signals of opportunity; the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Forum (ASOF), financially joint sponsored with the IEEE Ocean Engineering Society; and, soon, the Arctic and Northern Ocean Forum, which will follow the same approach as the ASOF.

Impactful Publications

In the area of publications, our four peer-reviewed publications, IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing (GRSL), IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters, IEEE Journal on Selected Topics on Applied Remote Sensing, and IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Magazine, are doing very well. They have an increasing number of submissions and high impact factors (4.662, 2.892, 2.777, and 4.932, respectively). I would like to thank Prof. Alejandro Frery for his outstanding service as GRSL editor-in-chief (EiC) and wish all the best to Prof. Avik Bhattacharya, the new GRSL EiC.

As I announced during the IGARSS 2018 plenary session, we are very proud of our new IEEE Journal on Miniaturized Air and Space Systems, another example of collaboration with other IEEE Societies and Councils. We expect that this new publication will fill a gap in the area of payloads and systems for small platforms from drones to CubeSats. The eNewsletter is also healthy, providing timely information, and has transitioned well under its new editor, Dr. Sidharth Misra.

Working to meet the requirements of reproducible research, our publications can now rely on two new assets: 1) the Remote Sensing Code Library, led by Prof. Fawwaz Ulaby and initiated under Prof. Kamal Sarabandi’s presidency; and 2) the new IEEE DataPort, to store codes and data sets associated with a publication. I am proud to say that the GRSS was the first IEEE Society to benefit from the IEEE DataPort, which can also be used to manage a data contest or simply as a data repository.

Education Programs

In the area of education, thank you to our Director of Education Dr. Josée Lévesque, for her efforts to increase the stature of our products and reach specific targeted segments with specialized products. Monthly live webinars have been presented by GRSS Distinguished Lecturers and representatives from universities, industry, and government agencies on cutting-edge remote sensing topics. These webinars have been planned and produced in conjunction with The GRSS now has an IEEE Resource Center to centralize, store, and make the GRSS webinars available, in addition to managing pricing and product certification. GRSS webinar and tutorial attendees can now benefit from IEEE certification as part of an initiative to offer IEEE continuing education units and professional development hours for GRSS educational products.

To increase available benefits for GRSS students and young professionals (YPs), in addition to the summer school offered in conjunction with IGARSS, the GRSS is organizing two other summer schools in the two other geographic regions of the world that are off-cycle for IGARSS. The GRSS is also translating educational materials and K–12 educational videos into several languages and has started production of a massive open online course (or MOOC) on the basics of remote sensing, Remote Sensing Image Acquisition, Analysis and Applications, in collaboration with the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Technical Activities

In the area of technical activities, I am proud of the creation of the new GRSS Standards for Earth Observation Technical Committee to advance the usability of remote sensing products by experts from academia, industry, and government to create and promote standards and best practices. So far, two working groups on synthetic aperture radar data formats and hyperspectral imagers have been initiated to identify areas in which standardization can improve the generation, distribution, and utilization of interoperable data products. These groups will work with existing standards development organizations such as the IEEE Standards Association, the Open Geospatial Consortium, and the International Organization for Standardization to publish standards that will be widely adopted. At present, two new working groups on microwave radiometer calibration and GNSS-R sensors are being formed.

The participation of the Frequency Allocations in Remote Sensing (FARS) Technical Committee in the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication sector (ITU-R) preparatory studies for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 has been outstanding and worthy of public recognition because such participation is very time consuming. All microwave remote sensors rely on the appropriate use of the spectrum. Despite the fact that they are “protected” and operate in “reserved” bands, radio frequency interference (RFI) is an increasing problem due to pressure from the telecommunications industry to utilize every possible frequency band. The FARS Technical Committee was the first to raise the problem of existing RFI at 18 GHz at the ITU-R Working Party 7C in May 2018. After further analyses, the issue gained traction through networking efforts with the Space Frequency Coordination Group and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Radio Frequencies. FARS’s concerns are now shared by a number of national administrations. Thanks to this growing international support, efforts by the telecommunication industry to block the advance of the draft report on 18-GHz RFI have failed, at least for the time being.

Social Media

In the area of information resources, the GRSS has substantially expanded its social media presence. To further this goal, Mustafa Ustuner was appointed the first GRSS social media ambassador. During IGARSS 2018 in Valencia, Spain, he conducted Facebook Live interviews to provide information on GRSS technical committees, YP and Women-in­Engineering activities, the Industry Forum, the IGARSS Student Paper Competition, and IGARSS 2019 (to be held in Yokohama, Japan). The tweet wall and selfie frame at the GRSS booth in the exhibit area were used extensively to post selfies with the hashtag #IGARSS_Selfie. Social media was also used to inform IGARSS attendees about the Technology, Industry, and Education Forum events. The @IEEE_GRSS and @IEEE_WinGRSS (Women in GRSS) twitter accounts, as well as the GRSS Facebook home page, all experienced significant increases in followers and views during IGARSS 2018.

Facebook and LinkedIn Groups have been used to publicize GRSS webinars through both the IEEE GRSS and IEEE WinGRSS Facebook groups; these have experienced substantial membership growth as well. Going forward, we plan to increase the number of GRSS social media ambassadors by focusing on students and postdocs in our field from diverse geographic regions and topic areas as well as a strong commitment to the GRSS.

Professional Activities

In the area of professional activities, our Society is quite active, and the number of Chapters has increased to 67, seven of which are Student Branch Chapters. In addition to the more traditional-format YP Remote Sensing Conference, held in June 2018 in Aachen, Germany, and the newer YP in Space Conference and Bootcamp, held July 2018 in Barcelona, Spain, the GRSS has initiated two new activities to foster engagement among students and YPs. One is the new Student Grand Challenge to create an end-to-end drone-based remote sensing app. The other is the YP Arctic Challenge, a joint venture between the GRSS and the IEEE New Initiatives Committee, in which YPs will create a video identifying challenges facing the Arctic and presenting their projects and ideas to address them.

Looking to the future

In the coming years, the GRSS will face a number of challenges, such the need for better engagement of members working in industry in GRSS activities and leadership and a quick transition to open access journals—an area in which not only the GRSS, but also the IEEE, in general, is a bit behind other publishers.

Consolidation of the previously discussed initiatives, notably the new regional IGARSSs, will also be a major task, most likely requiring some restructuring of the AdCom. However, challenges are opportunities if we manage them properly, so we should be expecting net growth, as has happened in other areas in which the GRSS has invested past efforts.

However, I am afraid that this will not happen as much as it could, if IEEE membership fees are not adjusted to the actual standard of living in different regions, particularly in Africa and Latin America. That was a recurring request I received last September during my visit to Chapters in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile to work on advance planning for LAGIRS 2020. People were eager to join the GRSS, but many of them are simply unable to do so because of the cost. The GRSS will request that the IEEE reduce these fees on a regional basis as much as possible, perhaps looking for imaginative solutions to address this serious problem.

On the organizational side, we have made a number of changes to the Operations Manual both to update it to the current reality of the GRSS and to increase its efficiency and transparency. In particular, let me highlight two of these changes.

The first relates to the creation of Chapters. In vast regions, particularly those in China, IEEE rules limit the number of Chapters to one per Section, in spite of distances being greater than 1,000 km. The GRSS is thus going to allow the creation of “satellite chapters” that, from an administrative point of view, will operate as independent Chapters in all respects except for reporting. To accomplish this, the original Chapter will compile the information from all of its satellite chapters.

The second change relates to the election process. Starting in 2019, the GRSS will establish a system to receive online candidacies for the AdCom elections. After logging in, members can easily endorse the candidates of their choice. Please take a look at the new GRSS Operations Manual with these changes; the updated manual will be published on the GRSS website at the end of the year.

Final Thoughts

I started this, my last message as GRSS president, by offering my gratitude for the opportunity to serve you. The GRSS is what it is today thanks to the hard work of many people over the past decades. As a sign of appreciation for their contributions, I had the pleasure to invite the seven IEEE GRSS Honorary Life Members to attend the November AdCom meeting in Barcelona, my home city. The GRSS Honorary Life Members are Dr. Andrew J. Blanchard, Dr. David G. Goodenough, Dr. Martti T. Hallikainen, Dr. Werner Wiesbeck, Dr. Fawwaz T. Ulaby, Dr. Keith R. Carver, and Dr. Leung Tsang. All of them except the last two were able to attend. Figure 1 is a group picture of them during the AdCom dinner.

Figure 1. IEEE GRSS Honorary Life Members during the AdCom dinner with their certificates. From left to right: Prof. Werner Wiesbeck, Prof. Martti T. Hallikainen, Prof. Fawwaz Ulaby, Dr. David G. Goodenough, and Prof. Andrew J. Blanchard.

My final words here go out to Prof. Paolo Gamba for his election as 2019 GRSS president and Prof. Irena Hanjsek, Dr. Xiuping Jia, Dr. Paul A. Rosen, Dr. David Kunkee, Prof. Alejandro Frery, and Prof. Farid Melgani for their election as GRSS AdCom members for the next three years. Congratulations and all good wishes!

Prof. Adriano Camps
2018 IEEE GRSS President