GeoResources Institute Making Mark on Economic Development

Geosystems Research Institute
May 18, 2004

Starkville - While the technology at GeoResources Institute seems morefitting for Star Trek rather than Mississippi, officials say their workwill help the state go were no one has gone in economic development.

Utilizing the latest in geo-spatial imaging technology, the institute isworking with various sectors to improve the economic bottom line throughless waste in manpower and resources.

Dr. David Shaw, director of the GeoResources Institute at MississippiState University, said the technology can not only help improve qualityof life through better resource management, but also can lead to newareas of economic development.

"We believe the work our scientists do with geotechnology can open up anew world in economic development," he said. "Through our research wehave the technology that can help urban planners predict urban sprawland plan for economic development projects."

The GeoResources Institute (GRI) first opened in 2002 as the RemoteSensing Technology Center. University officials soon combined threeother research departments dealing with similar technologies, creatingGRI. The institute utilizes as many as 100 scientists. 

Utilizing satellites and remote sensors on platforms and aircrafts, theinstitute develops technology that can map the earth's geography soprecisely that weeds only 4 inches tall can be pinpointed. Theinstitute's innovative methods in remote sensing and imaging hasgarnered prestigious partners, such as the National Aeronautics andSpace Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Securityand the U.S. Forestry Service.

Currently, one team of scientists is working on developing a systemwhich uses satellite imaging to help cotton farmers identify parasitesin plants before the infestation gets out of control. According toDebbie McBride, publication coordinator at GRI, these parasites costcotton farmers across the U.S. more than $177 million in lost crops lastyear.

"There parasites, called Nematodes, are worm-like bugs that can destroya crop. Some of our scientists have developed a way through this imagingprocess to see where these parasites are located within the soil," shesaid. "Before this, the only way to determine their location was tophysically go to the site and collect a soil sample, which in turn hadto be tested . that's too much time when a crop is on the line. Ourmethod is not only more timely, but far more cost effective."

The technology is also being used to help farmers determine the locationof weeds in a particular area of a field so pesticides can be moreprecise, reducing the amount of chemicals used, which saves time andmoney.

McBride said researchers have developed a wide array of fields in whichto use the technology, from enhancing watershed management strategies tobetter protection of the country from possible bioterror attacks.

Emergency responders with the Homeland Security Department can betterunderstand how chemical agents might spread if used to attack the UnitedStates.

"These emergency response teams can use geospatial imaging to tell howfar and fast a particular chemical agent might spread by using thistechnology," she said. The technology is also capable of protecting the U.S. food supply by detecting subtle differences in land and plants.

"Bio terrorists could conceivably drop a chemical agent on our foodsources that we may not be able to detect with the human eye, but thistechnology could give us a sign that something had changed withinminutes," she said. "We don't consider this technology a matter ofcoming of age, but a matter of needing to embrace the future."

-- Original article appeared in the East Mississippi Business Journal, May 2004.

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