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Division of Natural Sciences & MathematicsDepartment of Geography & the Environment

Faculty & Staff
  • SuttonWeb2

    Paul C. Sutton

    Phone: 303-871-2399
    Email: [email protected]

    Personal Page


    1999 PhD, Geography, University of California-Santa Barbara
    1997 MA, Statistics, University of California-Santa Barbara
    1995 MA, Geography, University of California-Santa Barbara
    1983 BS, Chemistry. Union College

    Research Interests 

  • The NightSat Mission

    As an Urban Metabolism Scientist, I do research that identifies and documents how the improved spatial and spectral resolution of nighttime satellite imagery derived data products will inform our understanding of the human environment-sustainability problematic as it pertains to the following: urban growth and land use patterns, mapping and monetizing the human ecological footprint, and characterizing the megapolitan-urban-exurban gradient and its impacts on ecosystem function, habitat fragmentation, and ecosystem services.


    Geo-location and Radiance Calibration of the DMSP OLS and VIIRS Sensors

    I have been using data products derived from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP OLS) for myriad applications. This work has contributed to the justification for the aforementioned NightSat mission. The coarse spatial and spectral resolution of the DMSP OLS presents many uncertainties with respect to spatial and radiometric accuracy of the sensor. I have been working with Dr. Sharolyn Anderson and her PhD student (Benjamin Tuttle) on characterizing and calibrating the DMSP OLS imagery by lighting up pixels in dark places using our own light source.


    Valuation of Ecosystem Services

    I began a working relationship with Robert Costanza back in my days as a graduate student at UCSB in which I participated in the writing of a paper published in Nature titled: The value of the world’s ecosystems and natural capital. As a result of this I became interested in the development of the discipline of ecological economics. Dr. Costanza and I have worked together on several other papers involving the interesting problems associated with trying to assign dollar values to ecosystem services. I use my expertise in GIS and spatial data analysis in collaborations with economists and ecologists to make spatially explicit valuations of ecosystem services.


    Development of independent and objective Sustainability Metrics

    I have had a long interest in the idea of carrying capacity going back to my days as president of the Santa Barbara Chapter of Zero Population Growth and conversations with Paul Ehrlich, Garrett Hardin, Hunter Lovins, and Jared Diamond. I have developed some simple, easy to measure, and objective metrics of sustainability that correlate strongly with well-established metrics such as the Global Footprint Network’s ‘Ecological Footprint’. I collaborate with Alessandro Galli of the Global Footprint Network in this area.


    Mapping Economic Activity using Nighttime Satellite imagery

    I work closely with one of my PhD Students, Tony Wang, in the modeling of economic activity using the VIIRS data products. He successfully developed methods for estimating the fraction of the national economy of Uganda and other countries in Africa that are in the informal sector and mapped it. He also produced estimates of national GINI coefficients using only population data and nighttime satellite imagery. This work relating the estimation and mapping of economic activity using nocturnal satellite observations is gaining traction with researchers at Yale and UCLA.


    Issues of Scale and Representation in Geographic Data

    Figuring out how best to represent spatially and temporally varying phenomena in a digital environment is a fascinating problem of scale, classification, and abstraction. The simple idea of representing the spatio-temporal variation of intra-urban population density is a good example of how this is not really a simple idea. In my efforts at modeling proxy measures of population density, economic activity, and ecosystem service value I have enjoyed struggling with these insurmountable problems and hope to make some contributions to methods that will inform our understanding of the roles these phenomena play in questions of sustainability.


    Measuring Learning Outcomes for undergraduate Geography Students

    I am becoming increasingly interested in what it is, exactly, that we believe we are teaching to undergraduate geography students. I am appalled at the simplistic ways in which we use end of course student evaluations to measure teaching effectiveness. I applaud efforts at the development of instruments such as the AP Human Geography exam that attempt to actually measure what students of Geography have presumably learned. I also serve as an AP Geography exam reader. I intend to participate in this clarification of ‘Learning Outcomes’ for undergraduate degrees in Geography for the rest of my career because I think it is imperative that we as faculty in this discipline can answer questions like: “What will I learn from taking a degree in Geography that I won’t learn from taking some other degree?”