Published: May 1, 2010

The Colwell Fellowship will support his research to develop new algorithms for radiometric normalization of night-time imagery from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). No record was made of on-board DMSP calibration adjustments over many years. This means that to detect changes over time, it is necessary to radiometrically normalize the imagery using known areas of constant light. Witmer will develop and use these new algorithms to analyze a dataset of over 14,000 violent events in the North Caucasus region of Russia that were identified and geolocated to the nearest village during the period from August 1999 to August 2007. Better radiometric correction of DMSP data collected over this 8-year period will support the analysis of the violent event data, to identify the types of impacts from violent conflict that are detectible with nighttime lights imagery. This information will aid in the early detection of violence, and could be used by international aid organizations to facilitate refugee assistance following periods of disturbance in contested landscapes and natural catastrophes.

Witmer's graduate career has emphasized the use of satellite remote sensing and other geospatial technologies to investigate the impacts of civil war on social functioning and land cover change. He received a PhD degree in Geography from the Univ. of Colorado in 2007. His doctoral research focused on an analysis of Landsat imagery to determine the effects of war on land-cover change and abandonment of agricultural lands in Bosnia following implantation of land mines during the war. The research topic for his Masters degree (2003, Univ. of Colorado) was Economic decline and the natural environment in post-Soviet European Russia: A remote sensing and spatial statistical analysis. Witmer also has experience in the private sector, having worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) from 1997-2001. As shown by his graduate research, Witmer has a very well rounded set of spatial analytical skills that include remote sensing, GIS, spatial and statistical modeling, and spatial analysis (including geostatistics) methods. He has demonstrated substantial success publishing his research in top journals, including the Annals of the Association of American Geographers and the International Journal of Remote Sensing. He is also a highly successful instructor in statistical methods, GIS, and political geography.

Over the course of more than a half century, Robert N. Colwell developed a reputation as one of the worlds most respected leaders in remote sensing, a field that he stewarded from the interpretation of aerial photographs during World War II, to the advanced acquisition and analysis of many types of geospatial data from military and civilian satellite platforms. His career included nearly 40 years of teaching and research at the University of California, Berkeley, a distinguished record of military service reaching the rank of Rear Admiral, and prominent roles in private industry and as a consultant for many U.S. and international agencies. Among the many awards bestowed upon Colwell, he had the distinction of being one of the 25 Honorary Members of ASPRS, chosen from the Society's 6000 members.

Purpose: Established in 2006 to encourage and commend college/university graduate students or post-doctoral researchers who display exceptional interest, desire, ability, and aptitude in the field of remote sensing or other related geospatial information technologies, and who have a special interest in developing practical uses of these technologies.

Donor: The ASPRS Foundation, from funds donated by students, associates, colleagues and friends of Robert N. Colwell. The Award now consists of a grant of $5,000 and a one-year student or associate membership (new or renewal) in ASPRS.