Extraterrestrial Geomatics: An interview with Dr. Nancy McKeown
I recently interviewed Dr. Nancy McKeown, who in 2010, gave a talk at the SETI Institute entitled: What Clays Can Tell us About Past Climate at Mawrth Vallis, Mars and last year, presented at the community Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Landing Site Workshops. Dr. McKeown is currently an assistant professor in Physical Sciences at Macewan University in Edmonton.
Amina Deiab: We would like to give our readers some background. Could you provide us with a brief background on how your career has led you to your current position? What is your area of expertise? What factors led you to choose work in the geomatics field and how has GIS shaped your experiences?
Nancy McKeown: I received my B.Sc. in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University in 2005, specializing in structural geology. My interests then turned to imaging spectroscopy and planetary geology, investigating the mineralogies at Mawrth Vallis, Mars for my Ph.D., which was received from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2010.
Immediately thereafter I was hired at MacEwan University in my current position. My area of expertise is planetary remote sensing, focusing on visible, near- infrared, short-wave infrared (VNIR-SWIR) imaging spectroscopy of Earth and Mars. I incorporate GIS into my work to map the results of my spectral analyses. I chose to work in GIS and remote sensing because I wanted to study the planets and Mars in particular, to help provide answers to the myriad questions we still have, and geomatics is one of the only ways to do that.
Amina Deiab: You are an assistant professor in Physical Sciences, at MacEwan University. Can you tell us about the types of courses you are developing and the content of the courses you are teaching?
Nancy McKeown: Introduction to GIS covers GIS theory and practice using ESRI’s ArcGIS software. It is currently undergoing redevelopment to employ some modern teaching and involvement techniques to help make the students learn and engage with the material at a deeper, more fun level. Planetary Surface Imaging is a course in remote sensing techniques as applied on Earth and other planets and introduces students to the use of ENVI in remote sensing data analysis.
Another course is taught by me and my colleague, Dr. Erin Walton, called: Geology of the Solar System. This course provides an overview of the geology of the planets and some of the moons in our solar system, the opportunity [for students] to interact with scientists via Skype regarding their research, and culminates in the development of a Discovery-class mission to another body in our solar system as a class project.
Amina Deiab: How do you incorporate your geomatics technical skills in your role as a professor?
Nancy McKeown: I use them directly when teaching GIS and imaging spectroscopy. I explain the theory and because of my personal experience with its application, I am better able to explain the quirks of the software to my students.
Amina Deiab: In addition to teaching, what type of research are you currently conducting?
Nancy McKeown:I am currently working on several projects related to Mars mineralogy, including relating mineralogy and morphology at Eberswalde crater with Melissa Rice, who created a beautiful geomorphology map using GIS, and colleagues.
Amina Deiab: Recently you presented at the community Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Landing Site Workshops. Could you tell us a bit about your contributions there?
Nancy McKeown: My contributions were focused on the mineralogy and mineralogic distribution at two of the four short-listed landing sites: Mawrth Vallis and Eberswalde crater. I was part of the team that was providing as much data as we could to help the landing site committee make an informed decision of where MSL would land.
Amina Deiab: What GIS and geomatics application do you use the most in your research on Mars and why?
Nancy McKeown: I use ENVI and ArcGIS because they are industry-standard pieces of software and quite comprehensive. Some colleagues use other pieces of software, such as NASA’s ISIS because they are working with specific datasets that can only be manipulated in that software.
Amina Deiab: How do you see geomatics applications evolving for planetary exploration?
Nancy McKeown: I think the development and refinement of projections for the different bodies is becoming of greater interest as the data usage expands to the greater scientific community. Furthermore, the need for good database management is critical as we receive terabytes back from other planets. The desire and need to not only maintain the datasets but also to correlate imagery from different instrument datasets is critical to advancing planetary exploration.
Thank you to Dr. Nancy McKeown for taking the time to speak with GoGeomatics.