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SLU, TGI Researcher Part of Team Using Remote Sensing to Study Permafrost

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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ST. LOUIS – Saint Louis University is one of five universities working together to study permafrost using hyperspectral remote sensing, as part of a grant funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) as part of its Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.

Vasit Sagan, Ph.D.

Vasit Sagan, Ph.D. is a professor of geospatial science and computer science, associate vice president for geospatial science at Saint Louis University and chief scientist for food security and digital agriculture for Taylor Geospatial Institute (TGI). Photo by Sarah Conroy.

Vasit Sagan, Ph.D., professor of geospatial science and computer science, associate vice president for geospatial science at Saint Louis University and chief scientist for food security and digital agriculture for Taylor Geospatial Institute (TGI), is SLU’s principal investigator on the project. 

The project, Interdisciplinary Material Science for the Hyperspectral Remote Sensing of Permafrost (I’M SHARP), will explore the physical and chemical properties of permafrost using remote sensing. The permafrost properties will be reviewed under current and potential environmental conditions.

The DoD awarded the highly competitive five-year, $7.5 million overall MURI grants to 30 teams at 73 academic institutions earlier this month after the Army Research Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and Office of Naval Research solicited proposals in areas of strategic importance to the Department.

The multidisciplinary I’M SHARP research team is led by Tugce Baser, Ph.D., assistant professor of geotechnical engineering at the University of Illinois and a TGI associate. The team also includes Go Iwahana of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Michael Lanagan, The Pennsylvania State University; Joel Johnson, Ohio State University; and Sahin Ozdemir, The Pennsylvania State University.

The team will explore the fundamental physical, chemical, electromagnetic, thermodynamic, hydraulic and mechanical properties of permafrost under current and changing environmental conditions that govern the remote sensing of permafrost at various wavelengths.

The project seeks to understand hyperspectral fingerprints of permafrost material chemistry and its dynamics in the context of climate change. To do this, the team will use simulations, remote sensing from multiple scales (drones, crewed aircraft, and satellite imaging), light polarization, and electromagnetic (EM) theory guided by knowledge of permafrost physical processes. 

SLU will receive $1.3 million to study hyperspectral signatures and light polarization associated with the physical, chemical, electromagnetic, thermodynamic properties of permafrost under current and future climate conditions.

Specifically, Sagan will lead hyperspectral data collection at permafrost test sites; scan simulated permafrost samples created in the lab with various “what if” scenarios with benchtop scanning systems, and develop novel spectral algorithms for characterizing permafrost from multiple scales, wavelengths, and polarizations. 

Since launching in 1985, DOD’s MURI program has allowed teams of investigators from multiple disciplines to generate collective insights, facilitating the growth of cutting-edge technologies to address unique challenges for the Department of Defense.

“Permafrost plays a pivotal role in regulating Earth’s climate and offers a living laboratory to accurately characterize the rate and magnitude of a warming climate,” Sagan said. “This is truly an interdisciplinary science team representing expertise in remote sensing, material chemistry, theoretical modeling, physics, and geotechnical engineering, uniquely positioned to lead this project.” 

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 15,200 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place. For more information, visit

About Taylor Geospatial Institute

TGI is passionate about fueling geospatial science and technology to create the next generation of solutions and policies that the whole world will depend on for sustainability and growth.

The TGI consortium is led by Saint Louis University and includes the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Harris-Stowe State University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Missouri University of Science & Technology, University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Washington University in St. Louis. Collectively, these institutions encompass more than 5,000 faculty and 100,000 students.

For more information, visit