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Dr. Kyle C. McDonald is the Terry Elkes Professor and Department Chair of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department at The City College of New York. He joined City University in 2011 having developed a distinguished 20-year career in the Science Division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, California. At JPL, he supported NASA’s Earth Science program as Principal and Co-Investigator on numerous Earth science investigations involving remote sensing of terrestrial ecosystems and the cryosphere. At the Graduate Center, Professor McDonald is affiliated with the doctoral faculties of both the Earth and Environmental Science (EES) and the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior (EEB) programs. He is a Faculty Affiliate at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) where he maintains strong collaborations with the CUNY Environmental Initiative, and he is Associate Director for Research of the CUNY CREST Institute, having long-standing collaborations with the NOAA CREST Center. He is Co-Director of CCNY’s Environmental Earth System Science (EESS) program and also actively engaged with CCNY’s MS program in Sustainability in the Urban Environment. Professor McDonald maintains a Faculty Part-Time position in the Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is a Project Scientist at UCLA’s Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering (JIFRESSE).
Professor McDonald’s research emphasizes the use of Earth remote sensing for characterizing terrestrial ecosystems and the cryosphere. He utilizes microwave and optical/infrared remote sensing datasets collected using satellite, aircraft, and ground-based platforms, combined with in situ measurements of surface properties (e.g. meteorology, vegetation biophysics, land surface state) to support remote sensing-based retrieval of surface state variables and to study process-level function and attributes of ecosystems (e.g. carbon, water and energy cycles, vegetation physiology, biodiversity, and associated response to climate). With an educational background in electrical engineering, he studies physical linkages between microwave propagation and scattering and salient ecosystem biophysical properties.
His project portfolio has included development of remote sensing-based characterization of inundated wetlands, characterization of surface structure and climate processes for assessment of ecosystem and evolutionary processes related to biodiversity with emphasis to the Amazon basin and Brazil’s Atlantic coastal rainforest, and characterization of surface water state variables across seasons and years for derivation of climate indicators in support of the US National Climate Assessment. His research in boreal and Arctic systems has employed satellite and aircraft remote sensing data sources to assess land-atmosphere exchange of CO2 and CH4 in Alaska, and development of merged land surface freeze/thaw state and sea ice melt/freeze products for the pan-Arctic for assessment of linkages across the land-ocean domain related to carbon, water, and energy cycles and associated linkages to climate change. Building on this work, he is developing new methodologies drawing on multiple microwave remote sensing datasets for assessment of soil frost dynamics to support characterization of seasonal land-atmosphere methane flux in cold soil environments. Utilizing his inundated wetlands datasets, he has examined the utility of remote sensing to assess risk factors associated with vector borne diseases outbreak focusing on malaria and visceral leishmaniasis in Africa. His current projects with CREST have included assessment of coral reef physiology as related to pollutants and climate risk factors in coral reef systems of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. His work in High Mountain Asia – the so-called “Third Pole Environment” – links active and passive microwave remote sensing assessments of seasonal land surface freeze/thaw state, snowmelt and glacier melt processes to river discharge for supporting assessment of climate change impacts to hydropower generation and ecosystem diversity in Nepal.
Professor McDonald believes strongly that advancing research using remote sensing observations of the Earth system requires that the remote sensing observations be grounded in a fundamental understanding of physical processes governing the linkages between ecosystem biophysical characteristics and the underlying nature of remote sensing signatures. His field work supporting these ends has included field expeditions to the Amazon, long-term vegetation biophysical collections from in situ monitoring stations in Alaska, and short-term station data collections undertaken for a variety of Earth system science studies. His ground-based studies of seasonal vegetation processes have supported, for example, investigations of the hydrologic cycle in the Dominican Republic, climate-related influence on the timing of spring thaw in temperature forests and woodlands in the Northeast US, and the effect of climate on tree growth and water stress in the forest ecosystem of California’s San Bernardino mountains – a study that has involved extensive dendrochronology analyses investigating past and contemporary climate-related stress on tree growth in this region.