Science & Technology

NSF CAREER: New Methods for Monitoring Dust-Exposed Vegetation Around the Great Salt Lake

By Sydney Dahle |

USU Assistant Professor Sierra Young received $550,000 from the National Science Foundation for a research project on the effects of dust deposition on vegetation using hyperspectral imaging.

A drying lake and increase of drought have led to a research proposal by Utah State University Assistant Professor Sierra Young, who is using hyperspectral imaging to study the effects of dust deposition on vegetation.

The CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation will support her research to monitor the effects of dust on vegetation, using the Great Salt Lake as a case study. She will receive roughly $550,000 over a five-year period.

“Increasing dust deposition due to aridification can negatively impact vegetation in the environment,” Young said. “Novel, nondestructive dust assessment techniques provide a better understanding of dust deposition and transport, and monitoring vegetation response can help us understand what the long-term effects might be of increasing dust exposure moving forward.”

Through hyperspectral imaging, reflectance across multiple wavelengths can be captured to provide detailed information about the material composition and properties of an object. This special type of camera reveals more about a typical leaf, showing variations in color, presence of different pigments, details about health, water and more. Complex algorithms can then be used to extract information about plant health and dust expose by separating the reflectance associated with vegetation versus dust material.

Young hopes that her research will enhance the health and resiliency of environmental systems facing both declining water resources and increasing pollution. She also hopes to educate community stakeholders to think critically about contaminants and effects on the environment and inform mitigation strategies. Long term, she hopes this method can be used via satellite imaging at a larger scale to identify potential dust issues.

The CAREER grant is given to early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to advance research in their areas. Young runs the Digital Agro-environment and Intelligent Systems, or DAISy Lab, which aims to advance understanding of the natural environment by developing new use cases for mobile and optical sensor systems for monitoring.

Her lab currently has two major thrusts: nondestructive, optical sensing to model and predict characteristics of biological materials and integration of sensing and sampling technologies with mobile aerial and aquatic vehicles for environmental monitoring.

Both graduate and undergraduate students will assist with Young’s research. Students will experience field sampling, analytical methods and imaging spectroscopy using experimental methods.


Sydney Dahle
Public Relations Specialist
College of Engineering


Sierra Young
Assistant Professor
Civil & Environmental Engineering Department


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