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ERDC-VCU (RSSL) Delivers a Variety of Remote Sensing Related Technologies

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The Geospatial Research Laboratory (GRL) cooperative Remote Sensing and Spectroscopy Laboratory (RSSL) is located in the Life Sciences Building on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, VA.  The RSSL links ERDC-GRL and VCU in both research activities and educational interests in the areas of remote sensing and spectroscopy.  Collaborative research specifically with VCU’s Center for Environmental Studies (CES), Department of Biology, and Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences remains the core-focus of the relationship.  The Environmental Remote Sensing course is also taught as an ERDC-VCU team effort.

What It Does

  • The ERDC–VCU laboratory utilizes a variety of remote sensing related technologies and skills (both hardware and software), and applies them to environmental and defense-related topics.
  • Linked to VCU Life Sciences, studies are often interdisciplinary and multi-scale in nature, employing integrative approaches to solving complex research questions and continually searching for emergent information.
  • Examples of these collaboration efforts include:
    • Understanding the environmental factors affecting the ability to remotely sense or discriminate materials of interest,
    • Investigating the sensitivities of newer technologies and comparing them to the more traditional approaches used today.
  • Current ERDC–VCU efforts include the development and employment of an enterprise-based data portal for the analysis of 3D point clouds that can be used in conjunction with publically available environmental data.

Features & Specifications

  • The facilities available to GRL RSSL through VCU Life Sciences have much potential and realized value.  The Life Sciences Building provides access to the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory, as well as Plant Physiology laboratory and associated climate-controlled greenhouse facility. 
  • VCU Life Sciences is rapidly expanding programs to keep pace with current science and technology.  For example, the new GEOCore facility at the Center for Environmental Studies supports training, research and application of spatial data analysis, to explore complex environmental relationships across broad temporal and spatial scales.  The facility is a heavily used resource by VCU faculty, graduate students and environmental professionals, and is well equipped with the necessary hardware and software to meet data storage and advanced processing needs.
  • The Rice Center for Environmental Studies, located along the historic James River and occupying 494 acres, is VCU’s field station.  This outdoor facility contains various aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems providing unique opportunities for researchers.  Along with laboratory and classroom space, and boat access to the James River, the infrastructure provides continuous water-quality and meteorological-monitoring equipment.  Research at this facility can focus on large river ecosystems and associated wetlands, landscape ecology, as well as terrestrial plant and animal communities.
  • In addition to the equipment and capabilities listed below, further advantages specific to the ERDC–VCU laboratory itself include 1,120 square feet of working space with biological and chemical fume hoods, chemical and biological disposal services, etc.

ERDC-RSSL Laboratory Equipment/Capabilities

  • Reflectance Spectroscopy (lab/field)
  • Fluorescence Spectroscopy (lab)
  • Stand-off Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging (lab)
  • High-Resolution GPS/Survey Data (field)
  • Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR/LADAR)/3D geospatial data (field)
  • Aerial Drone Data, RGB/NIR Imagery (field)


The undergraduate and graduate programs offered by VCU keep the students and staff working in the GRL Remote Sensing and Spectroscopy Lab current with cutting-edge research and state-of-the-art facilities. This also grants access for talented and innovative graduate and undergraduate students to the lab facilities, furthering government research and providing opportunities for remote sensing and spectroscopy advancement.

Success Stories

  • In collaboration with the VCU Biology, Plant Physiology Lab, an ERDC basic research project increased our understanding of the underlying relationships between the physiological and optical signs presented by plants in response to specific natural and anthropogenic stressors (isolated and combined), resulting in improved remote detection and potential discrimination of hazardous materials such as various explosives.1
  • In collaboration with the VCU Rice Center on the James River and Center for Environmental Studies: The ERDC inter-agency research project for studying the optical properties of inland waters as related to remote sensing models.  Data from the James River lower tidal estuary (in comparison to the Florida Keys) showed stark contrast for optimal approaches for LiDAR/bathymetric applications.2

Using existing technology in new ways, this unique, rapidly deployable sensing capability offers real-time, 3-D topographic and threat information.

ERDC Points of Contact

Dr. Jean Nelson, Jean.D.Nelson@usace.army.mil, 703-428-3636 (ERDC-GRL) or 804-828-9709 (VCU lab)
Dr. John Anderson, John.Anderson@erdc.dren.mil, 804-828-9709 (VCU lab)
Mr. Jarrod Edwards, Jarrod.D.Edwards@erdc.dren.mil , 804-828-9709 (VCU lab)

Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), Geospatial Research Laboratory (GRL)
7701 Telegraph Road, Alexandria, VA 22315

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Life Sciences Building, Lab 221
1000 West Cary St., Richmond, VA 23284


1 Zinnert, J. et al. (2013) “Distinguishing natural from anthropogenic stress in plants: physiology, fluorescence and hyperspectral reflectance.” Plant and Soil 366:133-141.

2 Gray, D. et al. (In press) “Using a multi-wavelength LiDAR for improved remote sensing of natural waters.” Applied Optics, 54(31).