This year, the DigitalGlobe Foundation (DGF) celebrates its 10th anniversary—marking a decade devoted to advancing the use of geospatial imagery to address local and global challenges and championing the education of the next-generation of geospatial leaders. The foundation is the 501(c)(3) organization underwritten by DigitalGlobe, Inc., a leading global provider of commercial high-resolution Earth observation satellite imagery and advanced geospatial solutions.
The DigitalGlobe Foundation was established in 2007 with a clear purpose: to promote innovation in the geospatial field, and develop tradecraft and expertise for the rapidly growing industry. To do that, the foundation makes DigitalGlobe’s unique space-based technology and resources available pro bono for academic research, and ensures academics, scientists and students obtain the necessary training to map, monitor and measure the Earth for an ever-expanding number of uses.
Founder Mark Brender, a pioneer in high-resolution Earth observation, saw the need to catalyze innovation and innovators by providing access to satellite imagery to both fast track the development of unique applications and enable training of new users. “In 2007, we saw the opportunity to put our imagery into the hands of students to develop capacity in the workforce, and hopefully develop new ideas for how satellite imagery can solve real world problems,” Brender says.
Today, the foundation, led by a board of directors made up of industry experts and Board President Kumar Navulur, Senior Director Global Strategic Programs at DigitalGlobe, remains committed to providing imagery grants—access to DigitalGlobe’s powerful image library, expertise and tools—to researchers at U.S. and global educational institutions seeking to study and address issues that impact the Earth and all its inhabitants.
More than 3,000 imagery grants and services delivering hundreds of millions of square kilometers of the Earth valued at more than $14 million have been awarded over 10 years.
Groundbreaking research has ranged from measuring the effects of climate change on the landscape, to understanding animal populations and biodiversity, identifying as yet undiscovered archeological sites, and determining how to best provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
“The DigitalGlobe Foundation plays a critical role in getting geospatial imagery, information and training to those doing scientific research about our changing planet,” Navulur says. “Through our grants, researchers and the global community gain perspective, insights and data to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”
Two standout successes, early recipients of DigitalGlobe Foundation grants, are Dr. Albert Lin and Dr. Sarah Parcak—both renowned innovators and recognized as Explorers of the National Geographic Society.
Dr. Lin received a DigitalGlobe Foundation imagery grant to fuel his search for the tomb of Genghis Khan. Dr. Lin, now a DGF board member, went on to co-found Tomnod, a crowdsourcing platform that uses the collective contributions of individuals to analyze vast amounts of satellite data. In 2013, DigitalGlobe acquired Tomnod, which now engages thousands of volunteers to help map areas in need of search and rescue efforts, humanitarian assistance and environmental monitoring.
Dr. Parcak was the recipient of a DigitalGlobe Foundation imagery grant to support “space archeology”—her innovative approach to finding unexplored archeological sites with satellite imagery, and the subject of her prize-winning TED Talk. She recently launched the GlobalXplorer® project, an online platform for a growing community of volunteer space archeologists to search and tag satellite imagery.
Current recipients of DigitalGlobe Foundation grants include:
- Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota, is studying Weddell seals in the Antarctic, integrating citizen science with GIS and remote sensing, ecology and climatology.
- Dan Shugar, assistant professor of geoscience at University of Washington, is investigating how climate change has rerouted the Yukon River.
- Michael Canilao, a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Illinois Chicago, is researching ancient gold trading trails in the island of Luzon, Philippines.
- Eli Dollarhide, a graduate student in anthropological archaeology at NYU, is doing a Mapping Magan Archeological Project, surveying archeological remains near Bat, Oman to understand the area’s political structure during the Bronze Age.
The DigitalGlobe Foundation has also awarded more than 25 financial scholarships over 10 years to undergraduate and graduate students in geospatial and geography majors at George Mason University and University of Colorado as part of the foundation’s commitment to the next generation of geospatial leaders. Some scholarship recipients have gone on to serve the company as interns and fulltime employees, another example of how the foundation is investing in the future of the industry.
“DigitalGlobe is committed to supporting the advancement of the Earth-imaging industry, and encouraging innovative uses of our imagery, our technology and our tools,” says Nancy Coleman, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility at DigitalGlobe, and long-time member of the DigitalGlobe Foundation board. “We are unwavering in our dedication to building capabilities, enabling critical insights for our imagery and data, and inspiring future geospatial visionaries.”