Facing Challenges, Creating Opportunities

Traditionally, the September “President’s Message” is dedicated to highlighting the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS), normally held in July. However, this year, as of this writing, we are still waiting to attend the first-ever virtual IGARSS, to be held from 26 September to 2 October 2020 (see https://www.igarss2020.org. This is one of the challenges we are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed our lifestyle so much and is going to have an impact on the way we, as IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society (GRSS) members, interact and work together for quite a while.

The virtual IGARSS 2020 is going to be a different event from our traditional IGARSS—but not all that different with regard to opportunities to interact and connect. We are forced to replace the in-person connection and meetings with virtual meetings and electronic connections. However, the content will be the same, and the attitude of our membership toward sharing and discussing interesting scientific and technical results is and always will be the same. We are members of this Society because we believe that there is an advantage in working together to achieve greater scientific and technical goals and we understand that only by sharing and working together can we achieve them. As a matter of fact, IGARSS will provide the same opportunities, via presentations and live discussions, from which we benefit during traditional in-person conferences (https://s3.amazonaws.com/video.igarss2020.org/IGARSS2020_in_a_nutshell.mp4).

Of course, since there may be issues with some electronic connections, we have put into place a lot of “redundancy” in the form of prerecorded presentations as well as additional people available to manage the sessions. We will have both session chairs and session managers, with different yet complementary tasks, to help sessions run smoothly and be useful to every attendee. Equally important to the many members who are involved in our seven technical communities (TCs; see http://www.grss-ieee.org/community/technical-committees/), there will be opportunities to interact even without the traditional TC and Chapters dinner.

The same is true for our Chapter chairs, who have traditionally met in person each year, beginning with IGARSS 2015 in Beijing, to discuss their activities as well as share best practices and good ideas for projects and ChapNet initiatives. Instead of the traditional in-person meeting, this year there have been and will continue to be webinars and online meetings that provide the same opportunities to interact and connect. Please stay tuned and look for the multiple emails (and social media posts!) you have received or will be receiving from IGARSS about the Technology, Industry, and Education (TIE) Forum events. All TIE events, including the links to webinar videos already offered as well as registration links for future ones, are available on the IGARSS 2020 website at https://igarss2020.org/TIEEvents.asp.

I encourage you to take a look and share the links and other resources with your local and technical communities because these stable sources of information will be useful to anyone who would like to better understand our Society’s TIE and Chapter activities and how to participate in them. There are many advantages to being a GRSS member, but an invaluable one for many of us is the opportunity to become part of one of our technical or geographical communities. This is something you may wish to consider starting in your own country or topic of interest!

Another challenge we have had to face due to COV- ID-19 is the implementation of some of the educational activities planned in connection with (or as a complement to) IGARSS. This is the case for the GRSS Summer School (GR4S), typically held just before IGARSS (https://hilo.hawaii.edu/depts/geography/igarss-2020/). However, during the past two years the GRSS has begun organizing similar events in other parts of the world, including experiential training activities for students and (young) professionals. To meet this objective, I have appointed an ad hoc committee, the GR4S Team, to coordinate activities among existing schools and foster new ones. The GR4S Team, led by Jun Li for the first months of this year and by Andrea Marinoni starting in April, has faced the challenge of organizing these events in an unprecedented situation. In spite of this, they were very successful, and two GR4Ss have already been organized and delivered virtually in July (in Hawaii and in P.R. China). One more GR4S is planned for September in Norway, and there are contacts with CONAE, the Argentinian Space Agency, for their Spring School in December, typically cosponsored by the GRSS. These virtual educational events have been attended by thousands of students and allowed the GRSS to reach a large number of young people interested in studying remote sensing topics and doing research in an area of interest to the GRSS. This is a great way to expand the reach of our community and engage new people, inviting them to become part of our membership.

Another challenge that has been successfully tackled during the first six months of 2020 is an update to the status of our IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing (J-STARS; http://www.grss-ieee.org/publication-category/jstars/). J-STARS became an open access journal in January 2020 and has a very competitive and subsidized article processing charge (APC) of US$1,250. This APC will stay the same in 2021, allowing GRSS members to publish their papers at a reason- able cost in a fully open access journal with a recently released impact factor for 2019 of 3.827, a nearly 13% increase since 2018. As a matter of fact, moving J-STARS to open access has increased the number of submissions (more than 950 in 2020 to date, with a forecast total of 1,600 submissions by the end of 2020), demonstrating the interest by our membership in this opportunity. We are glad that the GRSS Administrative Committee’s decision in March 2019 to move J-STARS to open access has met the needs of our membership. We would further like to thank both current Editor-in-Chief Jenny Du and incoming Editor-in-Chief Jun Li (starting in January 2021) for their work. Currently, there are more than 30 open calls for J-STARS special sections on very important topics, ranging from machine learning-based remote sensing to big data processing to superresolution of remotely sensed images. Please check the website at http://www.grss-ieee.org/jstars-special-issues/ to find out if there is a topic of interest to you. Remember, however, that submissions to J-STARS beyond these designated special topics are also welcome because J-STARS accepts papers in all areas of interest to GRSS members.

All in all, 2020 has been, and will likely remain, a challenging year. However, the Society has coped very well and adapted to the multiple challenges we have faced. We have had to cancel some events that were carefully planned to increase our regional presence (in Latin America and in India); however, these activities have been rescheduled for 2021 or 2022. Nevertheless, some of the larger goals have been achieved, and the GRSS has successfully met some of the principal challenges before us. I believe that the implementation of IGARSS 2020 is one of these situations, and I look forward to meeting you virtually during the conference all of us are awaiting at the end of September!

Kind regards, and stay safe!

Prof. Paolo Gamba
2019-2020 IEEE GRSS President
E-mail: president@grss-ieee.org
Twitter: @EOurban