Looking Back to Inform the Future: The Role of Cognition in Forest Disturbance Characterization from Remote Sensing Imagery

Open Access
Bianchetti, Raechel Anne
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 08, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Alan Maceachren, Dissertation Advisor
  • Douglas Miller, Committee Member
  • Alexander Klippel, Committee Member
  • Brian A Orland, Committee Member
  • remote sensing
  • cognition
  • cognitive systems engineering
Remotely sensed images have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. From novice users, aiding in search and rescue missions using tools such as TomNod, to trained analysts, synthesizing disparate data to address complex problems like climate change, imagery has become central to geospatial problem solving. Expert image analysts are continually faced with rapidly developing sensor technologies and software systems. In response to these cognitively demanding environments, expert analysts develop specialized knowledge and analytic skills to address increasingly complex problems. This study identifies the knowledge, skills, and analytic goals of expert image analysts tasked with identification of land cover and land use change. Analysts participating in this research are currently working as part of a national level analysis of land use change, and are well versed with the use of TimeSync, forest science, and image analysis. The results of this study benefit current analysts as it improves their awareness of their mental processes used during the image interpretation process. The study also can be generalized to understand the types of knowledge and visual cues that analysts use when reasoning with imagery for purposes beyond land use change studies. Here a Cognitive Task Analysis framework is used to organize evidence from qualitative knowledge elicitation methods for characterizing the cognitive aspects of the TimeSync image analysis process. Using a combination of content analysis, diagramming, semi-structured interviews, and observation, the study highlights the perceptual and cognitive elements of expert remote sensing interpretation. Results show that image analysts perform several standard cognitive processes, but flexibly employ these processes in response to various contextual cues. Expert image analysts’ ability to think flexibly during their analysis process was directly related to their amount of image analysis experience. Additionally, results show that the basic Image Interpretation Elements continue to be important despite technological augmentation of the interpretation process. These results are used to derive a set of design guidelines for developing geovisual analytic tools and training to support image analysis.