Doctoral Dissertation Research: Assessing the Cognitive Aspects of Satellite Image Interpretation

  • Maceachren, Alan (PI)
  • Portelli, Raechel R. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Remotely sensed imagery is a critical input to a wide range of research activities in environmental science, environmental management, and related domains. For example, analysts use multi-spectral imagery to detect and monitor forest disturbances, analyze habitat loss and fragmentation, and assess species diversity. A large proportion of recent research in remote sensing has been directed to automation of image analysis. The role of the human analysts is equally important to consider, however, because no fully automatic image analysis system currently exists. Through application of a visual analytics approach that couples human expertise with computer processing speed and consistency, it may be possible to improve accuracy, precision, and task-relevance of image-derived information. This coupling requires a more comprehensive understanding of the human analysts' perceptual and reasoning processes when they use the imagery. This doctoral dissertation research project will investigate cognitive tasks and fundamental visual stimuli used in the interpretation of aerial imagery within the application domain of forest management. To create an awareness of both high-level thought processes as well as low-level visual cues that are used by forest analysts, the doctoral student will use two cognitive methods. First, she will use applied cognitive task analysis, a method based on semi-structured interviews and diagramming activities, to uncover the knowledge structures and cognitive skills analysts use during the image analysis task. Second, she will conduct controlled cognitive experiments to identify visual cues deemed most important for visual interpretation of remotely sensed imagery. Using the knowledge gained during these two phases of research, a set of visual analytics tools will be developed to support semi-automated analysis of remotely sensed images for forest disturbances.

The current trend in remote sensing research focuses on the development and improvement of automated processes for addressing the increasing volumes of imagery data. These research efforts often fail to consider the importance of human operators in the process, and they do not consider the benefits that human-guided analytic processes can provide. This project will illuminate the cognitive processes that underlie image analysis, including both high-level thought processes as well as the low-level visual perception of imagery. Considering both facets of the image-interpretation process will provide an opportunity to clarify the links between these two aspects of image analysis and will provide direct input to development of visual analytic methods that connect human expertise with computational methods in productive ways. The project therefore will be useful for a range of activities, including forest science and management practices, geospatial intelligence analysis, and image analyst training. As a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award, this award also will provide support to enable a promising student to establish a strong independent research career.

Effective start/end date9/1/128/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $11,699.00


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