1961: Geoscience Electronics

The roots of IEEE’s Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society (GRSS) date back to the very early 1960s when the IEEE Professional Technical Group on Geoscience Electronics (G- GE) formed in 1961 as the 29th technical group of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE). The primary interest of G-GE was on the development and use of electro-seismic instruments, signal processing and seismic modeling in support of oil and natural gas exploration. The IRE board named Mr. Robert W. Olson of Texas Instruments as G-GE’s first chairman/president.

The first issue of The Transactions on Geoscience Electronics was published in Dallas in December 1963, and it contained only four peer- reviewed papers. Over the next 15 years, the scope of G-GE expanded to include oceanography, meteorology and weather forecasting. Membership approached 1500 members, but never exceeded it. G-GE sponsored successful symposia in 1969 and 1970, but its 1971 symposium was a failure, partly because of the stagnant economic conditions at the time and partly because of poor planning and execution. By 1977, membership of G-GE had fallen to 1200 members, its financial standing was precarious, its transactions published about 100 pages of technical articles per year, and the IEEE Board of Directors was pressuring G-GE, as well as other small IEEE groups and societies, to disband or consolidate.

1979: Fight For Survival

In 1979, IEEE appointed a three-person team to evaluate the performance of the IEEE Group on Geoscience Electronics and to recommend one of two options: (a) either to dissolve G-GE or ( b) to reconfigure it along a path that would make it more relevant to IEEE members. One of the three appointed members of the review team was Dr. Fawwaz Ulaby, then a new member of G-GE’s Administrative Committee and a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Kansas. He advocated for changing the name of G-GE and expanding its technical scope to encompass environmental remote sensing of all components of planet Earth. In its report to the IEEE Board of Directors, the review team emphasized the growing linkage between geoscientific disciplines and the increasing number of practitioners in the field of remote sensing, and offered a plan of action for implementing the proposed transformation.

1980: The Birth of GRSS

A few months afterwards, IEEE accepted the proposed plan and Professor Ulaby was appointed President of G-GE. Over the next year, he led a major transformation including: (a) appointment of a new Administrative Committee, (b) appointment of new editors for the Transactions and Newsletter, (c) changing the name to IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, or GRSS for short, and (d) introducing a new statement to describe the technical scope of the new Society. In the January 1980 issue of the renamed IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Professor Ulaby stated that the technical scope of GRSS is defined “to include Earth observations from spaceborne and airborne platforms, as well as seismic recording of the earth’s subsurface and sonar mapping of the ocean floor.” Numerous other individuals contributed to the foundation of GRSS, none more than Professor Keith Carver, who then was at New Mexico State University. Over the next three years, under the leadership of its new editor Professor Calvin Swift of the University of Massachusetts, the Transactions increased its page count from 100 to over 500, and the page count continued to increase, reaching 1000 by 1986. Membership in the Society also increased at a rapid rate.

Fawwaz Ulaby