California State University, Long Beach
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Geography Prof Recognized by ASPRS

Geography’s Suzanne Wechsler was recognized recently by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) as a first place winner for her article titled “Quantifying DEM Uncertainty and Its Effect on Topographic Parameters.”

Wechsler and co-author Charles Kroll from the State University of New York were honored in May at the ASPRS 2007 Annual Conference in Tampa, Fla. The award encourages and commends those who publish papers that advance knowledge about Geographic Information Systems.

First place winners are awarded a certificate and $500.

“We were very surprised and honored by this award,” said Wechsler, who joined the university in 2000. “There’s been a lot of uncertainty about spatial data. This paper attempts to provide users with a way to address that uncertainty.”

This uncertainty is especially true for Digital Elevation Models or DEMs, which are representations of topography with inherent errors that constitute uncertainty. “They are used widely by hydrologists because terrain and typography drive flow,” said Wechsler.” It looks very cool, almost like gaming, but just because it looks good doesn’t mean it’s reliable.”

The award is made to individuals whose article was published in the ASPRS journal, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing (PE&RS), during the calendar year preceding the year of the presentation. Award recipients are elected by secret ballot of the committee, with a simple majority determining the result.

Wechsler believes one reason for her recognition may be the increasing role of GIS in research. “There has been a lot of interest in spatial data error for the last decade,” she said. “This paper provides a way for users to do something about those errors. But that wasn’t possible until everybody had GIS on their desktops. Now we have precise measurements of what is on the ground. But we still don’t have ways of quantifying accuracy even though we have more precise data.”

Wechsler believes this kind of award encourages research. Founded in 1979, the ASPRS Foundation Inc. is an independent organization established to provide grants, scholarships, loans and other forms of aid to individuals or organizations pursuing knowledge of imaging and geospatial information science and technology, and their applications across the scientific, governmental and commercial sectors.

“This is the biggest recognition I’ve ever received,” said Wechsler. “It is really pleasing that the GI science community has deemed this an important area. It gives me a boost and makes me feel I ought to continue on. It gives me more confidence in the class room. GIS is my soap box when I teach. My students have it hammered home that they must be responsible users of the technology. Now I can explain to my students I’m not the only one to care about this.”

Last fall, she received a Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activity Award to study “Watershed Delineation and GIS Hydrologic Model Parameter Development for the Lake Barbara Watershed, Orange County, Ca.” She received her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Working with GIS has changed the way Wechsler looks at the world. “Whenever I fly, I sit by the window and analyze,” she laughed. “I love how topography changes. I tell my students to get the window seat so they can see how different facing slopes affect vegetation which then impacts what kinds of soils are formed and which, in turn, affect runoff. That’s the beauty of geography.”

Wechsler believes her recognition sends a signal to other researchers in the GI science community. “It signals that the user community is ready to handle the idea that there are different realizations and not one clear-cut answer,” she said. “The next crop of GI scientists will be award that there are a number of different realizations and eventually, the decision makers will come to their own realization that there is not necessarily one clear-cut answer to a hydrological model. The GIS community, by recognizing this paper, is saying, yes, we are ready for that kind of capability.”