Sciences and Exploration Directorate

James R Irons


James R Irons's Contact Card & Information.
Org Code: 610
Mail Code 610
Greenbelt, MD 20771
Employer: EMERITUS

Missions & Projects

Brief Bio

James R. (Jim) Irons is an Emeritus following his January 01, 2022 retirement as the Director of the Earth Sciences Division . As Director he managed a staff of over 200 civil servants and over 1200 people not in the civil service, all dedicated to studying the Earth as an integrated system that includes the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere, cryosphere, and geosphere. Jim was also the NASA Landsat 8 Project Scientist beginning in 1999. Prior to 2007, Jim worked 28 years as a physical scientist in the Biospheric Sciences Branch where he served as the Landsat 7 Deputy Project Scientist beginning in 1992. He then served as the Associate Deputy Director for Atmospheres from 2007 to 2013, as the Deputy Director for Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences in 2014, and as the Deputy Director of the Earth Sciences Division from 2015 to 2018. Jim received his B.Sc. degree in environmental resources management in 1976 and the M.Sc. degree in agronomy in 1979 from the Pennsylvania State University. He received his Ph.D. degree in agronomy in 1993 from the University of Maryland College Park. As an Emeritus Jim donates service as a mentor and shares legacy knowledge of science and flight projects for the benefit of the Center.


Director of the Earth Sciences Division

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

May 2018 - December 2021

James R. (Jim) Irons is the Director of the Earth Sciences Division. In this capacity he manages a staff of 200 civil servants and over 1200 people not in the civil service, all dedicated to studying the Earth as an integrated system that includes the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere, cryosphere, and geosphere. The Division operates as a component of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate where we collaborate on interdisciplinary research with the Astrophysics Science, Heliophysics Science, and Solar System Exploration Divisions. The Earth Sciences Division focuses on the observation of the Earth from space, on developing and applying models that describe and predict how the Earth works as an integrated system, on the collection of supporting data in the field and from airborne sensors, and on the application of our research for societal benefit.

Landsat 8 Project Scientist

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

April 1999 - December 2021

The Landsat 8 Project Scientist ensures the scientific integrity of the Landsat 8 mission (known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission before launch) in collaboration with NASA's interagency partner in the Landsat program, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the Department of the Interior. Prior to launch and in-orbit commissioning, the Project Scientist worked closely with the NASA GSFC Landsat Data Continuity (LDCM) Project Office through all phases of mission formulation and development. Tasks included specifying mission requirements, source evaluation of instrument proposals, participating in Project reviews, and leading public engagement and communications. Since launch and commissioning the Project Scientist works closely with the USGS to ensure that mission operations meet scientific requirements, serves on an instrument Performance Evaluation Board, and co-chairs the Landsat Science Team convened by the USGS.

Deputy Director of the Earth Sciences Division

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

October 2014 - May 2018

The Deputy Director of the Earth Sciences Division (ESD) participates jointly with the Director of ESD in managing all aspects of Division responsibilities, including scientific research planning, concept development for new missions, supervision of staff, budget and workforce planning, and, in the Director's absence, may act with full authority in the management of the Division.    The ESD provides scientific leadership to achieve NASA's strategic goals in Earth science studies (biosphere, atmospheric, oceanic, geologic processes and their interactions) through the analysis, interpretation, and application of data obtained from instruments from space complimented by airborne, ground-based, and laboratory measurements.

Deputy Director for Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences, Earth Science Division

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

October 2013 - December 2014

The Deputy Director for Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences is responsible for planning, leading, directing, implementing and assessing programs and activities dedicated to exploring and understanding the Earth's hydrosphere and biosphere, and the linkages between the oceans, land, atmosphere, and life on Earth. The Deputy Director is responsible for overall management of the laboratories pursuing studies in the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences including organizational management, personnel, facilities and resources.

Associate Deputy Director for Atmospheres, Earth Sciences Division

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

June 2007 - September 2013

The Associate Deputy Director for Atmospheres provided administrative and technical supervision to the atmospheric science laboratories at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in support of the Deputy Director for Atmospheres.  These laboratories advance the knowledge and understanding of the Earth atmosphere including climate variability, Earth radiation, chemical composition and properties, weather and precipitation.  The Associate Deputy Director assisted the Deputy Director in the management of all aspects of operations including research and mission planning, IT security, personnel actions, budget, and workforce planning.

Landsat 7 Deputy Project Scientist

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

June 1992 - April 1999

The Landsat 7 Deputy Project Scientist supported the Project Scientist in ensuring the scientific integrity of the Landsat 7 mission.

Physical Scientist, Earth Sciences Remote Sensing, Biospheric Sciences Branch

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

December 1978 - June 2007

A physical scientist conceives, plans, initiates, leads, and conducts research to increase fundemental knowledge of the biospheric processes on the surface of the Earth.  A physical scientist proposes research projects in response to competive research solicitations, manages the funding and execution of selected proposals, and publishes results in refereed scientific journals.


Ph.D. in agronomy, 1993, University of Maryland College Park
M.S. in agronomy, 1979, Penn State University
B.S. in environmental resources management, 1976, Penn State University

Professional Societies

American Geophysical Union

2010 - Present


2019 Outstanding Alumnus , College of Agricultural Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University

NASA Agency Honor Awards - Individual:
Distinguished Service Medal; 2014
Exceptional Service Medal; 2009

NASA Agency Honor Awards - Group Achievement Awards:
Landsat Data Continuity Mission Team: 2014
MSL Project Management Team; 2013
Acquisition Improvement Award (LDCM); 2004, 2007
Landsat 7 Government Industry Team; 2000
Landsat 7 Transition Team; 1995
TM Data Analysis Team; 1985

Robert H. Goddard (GSFC) Honor Awards - Group Achievement Awards
Landsat 40th Anniversary Team; 2013
Outstanding Teamwork Award / LDCM Procurement Team; 2003
Landsat 7 Project Science Office; 1999
Landsat 7 DAAC Emergency System Development Team; 1999
Boreal Ecosystem-Atmosphere Study (BOREAS); 1995
Advanced Solid State Array Spectroradiometer (ASAS); 1994
Landsat 7; 1994

Editors’ Citation for Excellence in Manuscript Review, Soil Science Society of America (SSSA); 1992



2015. "Rapid, high-resolution detection of environmental change over continental scales from satellite data – the Earth Observation Data Cube." International Journal of Digital Earth 9 (1): 106-111 [10.1080/17538947.2015.1111952] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "Landsat 8: status and on-orbit performance." Sensors, Systems, and Next-Generation Satellites XIX [10.1117/12.2194905] [Proceedings]

2015. "The Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) on Landsat 8: Design Overview and Pre-Launch Characterization." Remote Sens 7 (1): 1135-1153 [10.3390/rs70101135] [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "Emergent Imaging and Geospatial Technologies for Soil Investigations." Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 80 (4): 289-294 [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "Landsat-8: Science and product vision for terrestrial global change research." Remote Sensing of Environment 145 154-172 [10.1016/j.rse.2014.02.001] [Journal Article/Letter]

2012. "The Next Landsat Satellite: The Landsat Data Continuity Mission." Remote Sensing of Environment [10.1016/j.rse.2011.08.026] [Journal Article/Letter]

2008. "Landsat continuity: Issues and opportunities for land cover monitoring." Remote Sens Environ 112 (3): 955-969 [10.1016/j.rse.2007.07.004] [Journal Article/Letter]

2006. "Historical record of Landsat global coverage: mission operations, NSLRSDA, and international cooperator stations." Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 72 (10): 1155-1169 [10.14358/PERS.72.10.1155] [Journal Article/Letter]

2006. "Requirements for a Landsat Data Continuity Mission." Photgrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 72 (10): 1102-1108 [Journal Article/Letter]

2006. "Historical Record of Landsat Global Coverage: Mission Operations, NSLRSDA, and International Cooperator Stations." Photogramm Eng Remote Sens 72 (10): 1155-1169 [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "Detection of initial damage in Norway spruce canopies using hyperspectral airborne data." International Journal of Remote Sensing 25 (24): 5557-5584 [10.1080/01431160410001726058] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "Foreword to the Special Issue on Landsat Sensor Performance Characterization." IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sensing 42 (12): 2687-2689 [10.1109/TGRS.2004.841174] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "Landsat sensor performance: history and current status." IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sensing 42 (12): 2691-2694 [10.1109/TGRS.2004.840720] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "A Method for Unbiased High-Resolution Aerosol Retrieval from Landsat." J. Atmos. Sci. 61 (11): 1233-1244 [10.1175/1520-0469(2004)061<1233:AMFUHA>2.0.CO;2] [Journal Article/Letter]

2003. "National Park vegetation mapping using multitemporal Landsat 7 data and a decision tree classifier." Remote Sens. Environ. 85 (3): 316–327 [10.1016/S0034-4257(03)00010-5] [Journal Article/Letter]

2001. "The Landsat 7 Mission: Terrestrial research and applications for the 21st century." Remote Sens. Environ. 78 (1–2): 3–12 [10.1016/S0034-4257(01)00262-0] [Journal Article/Letter]

1997. "Bidirectional reflectance of selected BOREAS sites from multiangle airborne data." J. Geophys. Res. 102 (D24): 29505-29516 [10.1029/96JD03880] [Journal Article/Letter]

1996. "A modeling study of backscattering from soil surfaces." IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. 34 (1): 264 - 271 [10.1109/36.481911] [Journal Article/Letter]

1996. "Classification of ASAS multiangle and multispectral measurements using artificial neural networks." Remote Sensing of Environment 57 (2): 79-87 [10.1016/0034-4257(95)00197-2] [Journal Article/Letter]

1995. "Potential for discriminating crop residues from soil by reflectance and fluorescence." Agron. J. 87 165-171 [10.2134/agronj1995.00021962008700020005x] [Journal Article/Letter]

1995. "Estimating the fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (ƒAPAR) at FIFE with airborne bidirectional spectral reflectance data." J. Geophys. Res 100 (D12): 25523–25535 [10.1029/95JD01045] [Journal Article/Letter]

1995. "Comparison of airborne and surface spectral bidirectional reflectance factors, spectral hemispherical reflectance and spectral vegetation indices." J. Geophys. Res. 100 (D12): 25509–25522 [10.1029/95JD01643] [Journal Article/Letter]

1994. "Comparative analysis of data acquired by three narrow-band airborne spectroradiometers over subboreal vegetation." Remote Sens. Environ. 47 (2): 204-215 [10.1016/0034-4257(94)90156-2] [Journal Article/Letter]

1994. "Multispectral bidirectional reflectance of northern forest canopies with ASAS." Remote Sens. Environ. 47 (2): 276-289 [10.1016/0034-4257(94)90161-9] [Journal Article/Letter]

1993. "Learning class descriptions from a data base of spectral reflectance of soil samples." Remote Sens. Environ. 43 (2): 161-169 [10.1016/0034-4257(93)90005-I] [Journal Article/Letter]

1993. "Airborne bidirectional radiances of snow-covered surfaces in Montana, USA." Annals of Glaciology 17 (1): 35-40 [10.3198/1993AoG17-1-35-40] [Journal Article/Letter]

1993. "Automated measurement of polarized bidirectional reflectance." Remote Sensing of Environment 43 (1): 97-114 [10.1016/0034-4257(93)90067-8] [Journal Article/Letter]

1992. "Prairie grassland bidirectional reflectances measured by different instruments at the FIFE Site." J. Geophys. Res 97 (D17): 18,887–18,903 [10.1029/92JD02163] [Journal Article/Letter]

1992. "Prediction and measurement of soil bidirectional reflectance." IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. 30 (2): 249-260 [10.1109/36.134075] [Journal Article/Letter]

1991. "Surface albedo from bidirectional reflectance." Remote Sens. Environ. 35 (2-3): 201-211 [10.1016/0034-4257(91)90012-U] [Journal Article/Letter]

1991. "Surface scattering properties estimated from modeling ASAS multiple emission angle reflectance data over the Lunar Crater Volcanic Field, Nevada." Geophys. Res. Letters 18 (11): 2051-2054 [10.1029/91GL02664] [Journal Article/Letter]

1991. "An off-nadir pointing imaging spectroradiometer for terrestrial ecosystem studies." IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. 29 (1): 66-74 [10.1109/36.103294] [Journal Article/Letter]

1988. "Estimating big bluestem albedo from directional reflectance measurements." Remote Sensing of Environment 25 (2): 185-199 [10.1016/0034-4257(88)90100-9] [Journal Article/Letter]

1988. "Goniometric observations of light scattered from soils and leaves." J. of Wave-Material Interaction 3 (2): 189-198 [Journal Article/Letter]

1987. "Multiple angle observations of reflectance anisotropy from an airborne linear array sensor." IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. GE-25 (3): 372-383 [10.1109/TGRS.1987.289808] [Journal Article/Letter]

1986. "The utility of Thematic Mapper sensor characteristics for surface mine monitoring." Photo. Eng. and Remote Sensing 52 (3): 389-396 [Journal Article/Letter]

1985. "The effects of spatial resolution on the classification of Thematic Mapper data." International J. of Remote Sensing 6 (8): 1385-1403 [10.1080/01431168508948285] [Journal Article/Letter]

1985. "Performance comparisons between information extraction techniques using variable spatial resolution data." Photo. Eng. and Remote Sensing 51 (9): 1459-1470 [Journal Article/Letter]

1984. "A statistical evaluation of the advantages of Landsat Thematic Mapper data in comparison to Multispectral Scanner data." IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. GE-22 (3): 294 - 302 [10.1109/TGRS.1984.350624] [Journal Article/Letter]

1982. "Digital overlay of cartographic information on Landsat MSS data for soil surveys." Photo. Eng. and Remote Sensing 48 (8): 1337-1342 [Journal Article/Letter]

1982. "A data analytic approach to look angle radiance adjustment." J. of App. Photo. Eng. 8 (3): 128-137 [Journal Article/Letter]

1981. "Texture transforms of remote sensing data." Remote Sensing of Environment 11 359-370 [10.1016/0034-4257(81)90033-X] [Journal Article/Letter]

1981. "LAPR: An experimental aircraft pushbroom scanner." Photo. Eng. and Remote Sensing 47 (5): 631-639 [Journal Article/Letter]


2022. "Seeing Our Planet Anew: Fifty Years of Landsat." Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 88 (7): 429-436 [10.14358/pers.88.7.429] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "Landsat 8: The plans, the reality, and the legacy." Remote Sensing of Environment 185 1-6 [10.1016/j.rse.2016.07.033] [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "Remote Sensing of Soils for Environmental Assessment and Management (Foreward)." Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 80 (4): 309-310 [Journal Article/Letter]