NMSU geography department receives research instrument from NSF

WRITER: wthv8420
CONTACT: Michaela Buenemann, elabuen

The Department of Geography at New Mexico State University will receive an instrument capable of recording visible light as well as near infrared and shortwave infrared wavelengths in both field and laboratory settings thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation program.

Funding for the device, called an ASD FieldSpec 4 Hi-Res Spectroradiometer, was awarded in August 2018 in response to a proposal from NMSU geography professor Michaela Buenemann and Plant and Environmental Sciences professor Colby Brungard. The proposal outlined ways the spectroradiometer will support ongoing research for a diverse group of NMSU faculty, including anthropologists, astronomers, biologists, computer scientists, engineers, geographers, geologists, physicists, and soil scientists.

“We had thirty collaborators from four colleges involved in this proposal as well as partners in two private companies and four public agencies,” Buenemann said. “So there are a lot of people on this campus and beyond who are interested in using this device to support a diversity of research interests.”

“Leveraging our location in the Chihuahuan Desert, our research will initially focus on characterizing the spectral properties of common materials in drylands and on using this information in conjunction with hyperspectral imagery from unmanned aircraft systems”. Buenemann said.

“Specifically, we are interested in mapping two important aspects of these environments: woody plants and biocrusts. Worldwide, drylands cover more than forty percent of Earth’s land surface and are home to more than two billion people. Our research is critical because human well-being and ecosystem services in these environments are currently in decline due to woody plant encroachment and biocrust degradation among other issues.”

In addition to expanding the research infrastructure of NMSU, the spectroradiometer will also create new opportunities for extension and outreach as well as collaboration with partners in the private, public, and academic sectors.

Other professors in the College of Arts and Sciences plan to use the spectroradiometer in their research. Anthropology professor Fumi Arakawa plans to use the device to identify and characterize pottery and lithic artifacts, sedimentary rocks, and igneous rocks throughout archaeological sites in southern New Mexico.

Geology professor Reed Burgette plans to use the device to assess the ages of sedimentary deposits and landforms based on weathering and soil formation.

Biology professor Kathryn Hanley plans to use the device to determine the age and species of Aedes mosquitoes that may carry Zika, chikungunya, and dengue viruses.

Nancy Chanover in the Department of Astronomy and David Voelz in the College of Engineering’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering plan to use the device to support innovations in optical and infrared methods for planetary observation and exploration.

Dan Dugas in the Department of Geography and Dave Rachal of Tierra Vieja Consulting in Las Cruces plan to use the device to quantify iron oxide coatings of red soil and sediment to gain information about sediment distribution, age, and environmental history in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The device will also be used for research by professors and researchers in: the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences; the Asombro Institute for Science Education; the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute; the Agricultural Research Service; the Bureau of Land Management; and the National Park Service.

Ultimately, a spectral library will be made publicly available to help inform and improve mapping efforts in dryland ecosystems worldwide, which may enable more sustainable management of these vulnerable environments.

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