Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Compton J. Tucker


Compton J. Tucker's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.6644
Org Code: 610
Mail Code 610.9
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Missions & Projects


Postdoctoral Fellow

National Academy of Sciences - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

1975 - 1977

Physical Scientist

NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

1977 - Present


1969, B.S. in Biology, Colorado State University
1973, M.S., College of Forestry, Colorado State University
1975, Ph.D., College of Forestry, Colorado State University

Brief Bio

Dr. Tucker specializes in studying the earth with satellite data. He was among the first researchers to employ coarse-resolution satellite data to exploit the time domain for studying global photosynthesis on land, determining land cover, monitoring droughts, providing famine early warning, and predicting ecologically-coupled disease outbreaks. He has also used large quantities of Landsat data to study forest condition, deforestation, and forest fragmentation in temperate, subtropical, and tropical forests; and to study glacier extent. From 2005 to 2010, he was on NASA detail to the U.S. Global Change Program where he was the co-chairperson of two Interagency Working Groups, for Observations and for Land Use and Land Cover Change. He was active in NASA’s Space Archaeology Program and has conducted ground-based radar and magnetic surveys at Troy, the Granicus River Valley, and Gordion in Turkey, with University of Pennsylvania projects working at these locations from 2001 to 2012. Since 2014, he has been active in mapping land and forest degradation and attempting to quantify arid and semi-arid woody biomass using Landsat, MODIS, and large volumes of commercial satellite data. More recently, Tucker and colleagues have mastered mapping billions of trees and converting these into carbon at tree-level using machine learning coupled to high-performance computing.


Teaching Experience

Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland, 1995–2024

Taught Introduction to Remote Sensing 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2003

Consulting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2005–2024

Selected Public Outreach

Television Appearances, Radio Shows, and Congressional Testimony:

1988 - 2018

"Decade of Destruction," a PBS program in 1988 that dealt with the Brazilian state of Rondonia, where a misdirected project caused a decade of trouble for the state of Rondonia;

“Banking on Disaster,” a PBS program in 1989 that exposed the role of international finance and corruption in the Brazilian state of Rondonia;

Congressional testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on the topic of Indigenous peoples and the natural environment of Brazil. Other notable people taking part in the testimony were Ms. Biance Jagger, Mr. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, formerly president of Brazil; Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, Shaman and Spokesperson for Yanomami Nation of Venezuela; Thomas E. Lovejoy, Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and the Environment, Smithsonian Institution; and David L. Skole, professor at Michigan State University. My testimony concerned Amazon deforestation and habitat fragmentation using satellite data. May 10, 1994, Washington D.C.;

"The Nature of Things" by David Suzuki, CBS Canada (1995);

"Miracle Planet," All Nippon Television (1998);

"Science Friday: Satellites and Disease," National Public Radio, July 19, 1999.

“Salt Bandits,” Earth and Sky Radio Show, an interview regarding an expedition to a meteorite crater in an isolated part of the Bolivian Amazon Basin (2002);

“Rainforests at the Crossroads” Jason Expedition (2004). Appeared in forty-five 1-hour live educational television shows for middle-school students, January 20–February 6, 2004, from Baro Colorado Island, Panama (January–February 2004);

"How the Earth Works”, a 1-hour C-Span panel discussion on the Global Earth Observing System, January 10, 2005, sponsored by the American Meteorological Society (2005);

Congressional testimony to the House Appropriations subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies for Critical Satellite Climate Change Data Sets. My testimony concerned satellite observations needed to understand the role of land vegetation in weather and climate. March 18, 2009, The Capitol Building, Washington DC;

“The Geospatial Revolution” Episode 3, PBS (2011);

Space Archaeology,” a program in the “Are We Alone? — Make contact with science” series of science radio programs produced by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Institute. Released the week of June 6, 2011;

“My American Landscape Contest: A Space Chronicle of Change” May 31, 2012, Bay News 9 of Tampa, Florida, TV Interview about NASA’s Landsat Image Analysis Contest;

“How Many Trees are in the World?”, May 31, 2012, Aspen, Colorado Public Radio, 91.5 FM;

“Satellites revolutionize knowledge of ice sheets and glaciers”, June 8, 2012 Australian Radio National Breakfast with Ms. Fran Kelly, a live national radio program broadcast throughout Australia;

“It’s the First Day of Spring”, March 21, 2013. A series of live television interviews with television stations around the country on how satellite data show spring is arriving earlier due to global warming;

"Living Planet" -- Twenty years of synchronous land and ocean photosynthesis: >2.0M views on YouTube as of October 30, 2020, that was preceded by a number of television and radio interviews November 17–20, 2017. Twelve Living Planet live interviews in November 2017 for twelve television or radio stations;

NASA’s Dinosaur-Mammal Cretaceous Rosetta Stone January 31–Mid-February 2018 Media Extravaganza. Ten news stories or interviews.


Professional Service

M.S. or Ph.D. Graduate Committees Served On or Supervised while at NASA/GSFC:

David Wallin, 1990, Habitat Dynamics for an African Weaver-Bird: The Red-Billed Quela quelea, Ph.D., University of Virginia;

Peter Doughty, 1993, A Theoretical Study of Fire Detection Using AVHRR Data, M.S., University of Virginia, 1993.

Lars Eckland, 1996, AVHRR NDVI for Monitoring and Mapping of Vegetation and Drought in East African Environments, Ph.D., Lund University, Sweden.

Assaf Anyamba, 1997, Interannual Variations of NDVI over Africa and Their Relationship to ENSO: 1982-1995, Ph.D., Clarke University.

Sietse Los, 1998, Linkages Between Global Vegetation and Climate, Ph.D., Vrije Universiteit, Holland.

Chengquan Huang, 1999, Improved Land Cover Characterization from Satellite Remote Sensing, Ph.D., University of Maryland.

Malinda Paris, 2000, North American NDVI trends 1981 to 1999, M.S., University of Maryland.

Liming Zhou, 2002, Warming Enhanced Plant Growth in the North Since the 1980s: A Greener Greenhouse?, Ph.D., Boston Universiy.

Jiarou Dong, 2002, Dynamics of Carbon Storeage in the Woody Biomass of Northern Forests, Ph.D., Boston University.

Ana Pinheiro, 2004, Directional Effects in Observations of AVHRR Land Surface Temperature Over Africa, Ph.D., Universidad Nova de Lisboa.

Grant Harris, 2004, Remote Sensing and GIS Applications for Modeling Species Distributions, Ph.D., Duke University.

Rasmus Fensholt, 2004, Assessment of Primary Production in a Semi-arid Environment from Satellite Data, Ph.D., University of Copenhagen.

Alexander Lotsch, 2004, Spatio-Temporal Dynamics of Global Precipitation and Terrestrial Vegetation Inferred from Satellite and Climate Records, Ph.D., Boston University.

Hector Chikoore, 2005, Linking Land-Surface Processes to Regional Climate Models, M.S., University of Zululand.

Christopher Neigh, 2004, Newfoundland Vegetation Trends: Linkages between Temperature and NDVI, M.S., University of Maryland.

Allard de Wit, 2007, Regional crop yield forecasting using probabilistic crop growth modeling and remote sensing data assimilation, Ph.D., Wageningen Universitet, Holland

Christopher Neigh, 2008, Identifying and Understanding North American Carbon Cycle Perturbations from Natural and Anthropogenic Disturbances: 1982–2005, Ph.D., University of Maryland.

Sangram Ganguly, 2008, Earth System Data Records of Vegetation Leaf Area Index from Multiple Satellite-Borne Sensors, Ph.D., Boston University.

Gŕegory Duveiller, 2011, Crop specific GAI retrieval from multi-scale remote sensing for agricultural monitoring, Ph.D., Universit́e Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

Inbal Becker-Reshef, 2012, MODIS Prediction of Cereal Crop Yield, Ph.D., University of Maryland.

Liang Xu, 2013, Monitoring Global Vegetation Dynamics with Coarse and Moderate Resolution Satellite Data, Boston University.

Carolina Santos, 2015, Complex Land Use and Cover Trajectories in the Northern Chocó Bioregion of Colombia, Ph.D., Michigan State University.

Giuseppe Molanario, 2018, Forest Cover Dynamics of Shifting Cultivation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, University of Maryland.

Arden Burrell, 2018, Quantifying the role of Climate Change and Land Use on Desertification using Remote Sensing, University of New South Wales.

Reyadh Albarakat, 2019, Quantifying the destruction and recovery of the Iraqi Marshes with Satellite Data, University of South Carolina.

Yasmin Fits, 2022, Phenology of Sahelian Trees with Satellite Data, University of Toulouse

Katherine Melocik, 2020 Incorporation of tree elevation at the 50 cm scale from Satellite Data, University of Maryland.

Raghda El-Behaedi, 2023, How the Hydraulic Landscape of the Fayum Region of Egypt Influenced Settlement Patterns During the Pharaonic Period, University of Chicago.


NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award (1986);

NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1987);

Henry Shaw Medal, Missouri Botanical Garden (1992);

National Air and Space Museum Trophy (1993);

William Nordberg Memorial Award for Earth Sciences (1995);

Mongolian Friendship Medal (1st U.S. co-recipient with Dr. Mary Cleave) (1996);

William T. Pecora Award, U.S. Geological Survey (1997);

International Society for Optical Engineering Remote Sensing Award (2000);

Science Citation Index “Highly Cited” Recognition (2002);

Galathea Medal, Royal Danish Geographical Society (2004);

Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (2009);

Vega Medal, Swedish Society of Anthropology and Geography (2014);

Fellow of the American Association of Science (2016); and

Senior Executive Service Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service (2017).