Professor John R. G. Townshend of the Department of Geographical Sciences has been named as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as a AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.
Professor Townshend is an internationally renowned scholar and author whose research focuses on the rates and causes of vegetation cover change, especially deforestation, through the use of remotely sensed data from satellites; his work is funded primarily through NASA grants. He was also the head of UMD’s Global Land Cover Facility, which houses the largest open access non-governmental online collection of Landsat data in the world.
From 1989 to 1995, and again from 2001 to 2009, Professor Townshend served as Chair of the Department of Geographical Sciences. From 2009 to 2014, Professor Townshend served as Dean of the College and Behavioral and Social Sciences.
“I am honored to have been awarded a fellowship by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My endeavors have been greatly aided by colleagues in the Department of Geographical Sciences in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the many post-docs and graduate students with whom I have worked,” Professor Townshend said.
“Finally, my work—and in particular my international peregrinations—would not have been possible without the tremendous support of my wife, Jan.”
This year, 443 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New Fellows will be recognized on Feb. 15, 2020 during the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington. The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874.
This year’s AAAS Fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on Nov. 29. Professor Townshend was recognized, according to AAAS, "for fundamental contributions to earth resources remote sensing, especially the global study of deforestation and land cover change, and significant administrative leadership in academe."
Professor Townshend was recognized as part of the AAAS Section on Geology and Geography. Distinguished University Professor Ellen D. Williams of the Department of Physics was also named to the new cohort of Fellows, in the AAAS Section on Industrial Science and Technology.
“I am truly delighted with John receiving this recognition. John’s contribution to the field of earth resources remote sensing has been outstanding. His research on time-series AVHRR data, and his work on land cover change and the study of deforestation are seminal. In addition, he contributed so much to the profession over his career, from the formation of the UK Remote Sensing Society in the late 1970s, to chairing IGBP-DIS, creating the international GOFC GOLD program and the Integrated Observations for Land initiative,” said Professor Chris Justice, Chair of the Department of Geographical Sciences.
“In terms of academe, he transformed the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland to become a principal Department in the country, and as Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences he successfully promoted the College nationally and internationally and at the campus level. John has had such a distinguished career, and this award is so well-deserved,” Professor Justice added.
There are several AAAS Fellows within the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and throughout the University of Maryland. Fellows in BSOS include Professor Stanley Presser of the Department of Sociology, a member of the 2017 cohort. BSOS Dean and Professor of Psychology Gregory Ball and Professor Nan Bernstein Ratner in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences were honored in 2014.
“John Townshend is a pioneer and a senior leader in the field of geographical sciences who has employed modern remote sensing methods to characterize land use changes across the world. His election as a Fellow of AAAS is a well-deserved honor. We are proud to have him as a faculty member of our College,” Dean Ball said.
Upon receiving the designation of AAAS Fellow, Professor Townshend reflected on the circumstances that inspired his research path.
“In the early ’70s, I was studying soil erosion in East Africa, and like many others found that the prime determinant was vegetation cover. Again, like others, I assumed that we had reliable maps of vegetation cover at all scales up to the global. It soon became apparent this was untrue. Even the official country statistics compiled by the United Nations were suspect, since they were largely based on figures provided by member nations who used very different approaches,” Professor Townshend said. "At that time there was already a great deal of imagery of Mars taken by spacecraft. It came to me that, in many respects, we knew more about the surface of Mars than that of our own planet Earth. My challenge was to eliminate this ignorance and through the work of colleagues at Maryland and from all parts of the globe; we have been successful.”
Professor Townshend earned his B.Sc. (1967) and Ph.D. (1971) in geography from University College London. He has held academic positions at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the University of Reading, UK and Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Professor Townshend also held a senior National Academy of Sciences fellowship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He has held affiliate positions at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computing Studies and the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center.
Professor Townshend is a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the College of Global Change and Earth Sciences, Beijing Normal University and the Scientific Steering Committee of the Institute for Global Change Studies, Tsinghua University. He serves as a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Digital Earth and is a member of the executive committee of the International Society for Digital Earth.