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    Candidate Profile
     Date Submitted:15-05-2017
     Last Modified:15-05-2017 (07:45)
    Job information
     Current job:Chief Scientist - Earth Observation
     Employment Term:Permanent
     Job location:Anywhere
     Date available:within a month
     Industry:Civil Agencies/International Organizations, Satellite Operators, Business Services
     KeywordsEarth Observation Applications


    2005-06  Research Associate Post-Doctoral Fellow, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, Greenbelt, MD and UMBC.

    2001-05   Ph.D.  University of Maryland, Department of Geography. 2001.  Dissertation title: “Monitoring land degradation in Southern Africa by assessing changes in primary productivity.”

    1997         M.Sc.  Cum Laude, University of Pretoria, South Africa, Conservation Biology/Landscape Ecology, Department of Zoology.  Thesis title: “Biodiversity assessment and conservation planning: the grad sect survey method and the use of local scale surrogate information.”

    1993         B.Sc.  Honors Degree, University of Pretoria, Major: Department of Zoology.   

    1992         B.Sc.  University of Pretoria, Zoology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Mathematical Statistics.


    2012 - present Chief Scientist, Earth Observation Science and Information Technology (EOS IT), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Science, CSIR -- Meraka Institute for Advanced Information and Communication Technology, Pretoria.

    Develop a strategic vision and operational plan for programmatic research, financial and human resource support, and collaborative partners for an annual 1.8 million dollar program.  Direct a group of up to 15 scientists, electronic engineers, computer scientists, and remote sensing experts to generate geo-spatial information from Earth Observation (EO) data for environmental applications. Manage the team effort to analyze the vast amount of remotely sensed data to build research platforms and operational systems. Prepared and won multiple competitive grants (below).  Recruited and developed graduate students, developers and senior scientists. Our EOS IT group is widely regarded as national leader in EO R&D and application development. Lead multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional research projects. Manage international stakeholder relationships.

    2011 - present  Honorary Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, GeoInformatics and Meteorology. University of Pretoria.

    Contribute to the development of curricula for remote sensing modules, present guest lectures in undergraduate and graduate courses related to advanced remote sensing techniques, GIS, and land cover mapping, set and adjudicate assignments and supervise postgraduate/graduate students.

    2006 - 2012      Principal Scientist and Research Group Leader, Remote Sensing Research Unit (RSRU), CSIR-Meraka Institute for Advanced Information and Communication Technology, Pretoria. Established new competence area “Earth Observation Science and Information Technology (EOS IT)” which has grown to 40 people and four research groups, including RSRU.

     2005 – 2006     Research Associate, NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory and Goddard Earth Sciences Technology Centre, University of Maryland Baltimore County.

    2002 – 2005    Research Assistant, Dept. of Geography, University of Maryland.

    Under the supervision of Dr. Stephen D. Prince, analyzed trends in South African and global net primary productivity (NPP) estimated using time series of satellite data and climate variables in order to track human induced land degradation.

    2001 – 2004    Research Assistant, Dept. of Geography, University of Maryland.

    Assisted Dr. Ruth Fries in the NASA funded Project entitled, “Land Use Change in and Around Protected Areas in LCLUC Sites: Synthesis of Rates and Consequences for Biodiversity”. Wrote technical papers and mapped land cover with MODIS and Landsat satellite data.

    1997 - 2001     Senior Researcher and Researcher, Agricultural Research Council, Institute for Soil, Climate and Water, Remote Sensing and Geo-Informatics Division, South Africa.

    Wrote project proposals and reports, managed projects, conducted statistical analyses, processed satellite imagery, field survey planning and implementation, prepared remote sensing products and communicated results to funding agencies and data users. Conducted state-level natural resource audits using satellite data and field work. Conducted national assessment of the potential impact of agriculture on biodiversity by analyzing species distribution data for plants, butterflies, birds and mammals, along with land cover and agricultural data.

    1994                Field Assistant, United States Geological Survey, Raptor Research and Technical Assistance Center, Boise, Idaho.

    1994                Field Assistant, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Juneau, Alaska



    National woody vegetation monitoring system for ecosystem and value-added services (2016-2019). Co-Principal Investigator. The project aims to develop a national woody vegetation biomass monitoring system using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and limited airborne LiDAR data. These data will be used for spatial decision making and trade-off between different uses of biomass such as fuelwood extraction and other ecosystem services e.g carbon sequestration. Funded by CSIR competitive Thematic Research fund (ZAR 12 million ~ $ US1.2million[1])


    Modeling National Carbon Stocks and Fluxes (2013-2016)

    Co-Principal investigator. The project implemented models to map above and below ground carbon stock and major fluxes (e.g. Net Primary Production) using climate and diverse satellite-derived biophysical variables. The client was the Department of Environmental Affairs and the project formed part of our national carbon budget and obligations to the UNFCCC (funded by UK Department of International Development (DFID) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)). The outputs formed the basis of national carbon budget. (ZAR 3.9 million ~ $US 390 0001)


    Remote sensing based spatial decision support solutions for monitoring key anthropogenic objects and features at the nexus of natural and built environments. Co-Investigator. The project aims to extract essential features and information from high resolution optical and SAR satellite imagery within urban and peri-urban areas to assist spatial planning. We focused on automatic detection of change in human settlement, informal settlement expansion and individual dwelling extraction using machine learning. Funded by CSIR competitive Thematic Research fund (ZAR 12 million ~ $ US1.2million).


    Impact of fire, elephants and communal fuelwood extraction on woody vegetation in and around Kruger National Park. (2008 – present)  Co-Principal Investigator.  Collaborative research project with Dr. Greg Asner of Carnegie Institute, Stanford, USA. (The Carnegie Airborne Observatory flew three missions in and around Kruger National Park with integrated Lidar and hyperspectral systems sensors.) The project tackled fundamental questions related to remote sensing of vegetation structure (Lidar, SAR) and savanna ecology. This research has yielded multiple publications and has supported several graduate students. Funded by CSIR competitive Thematic Research fund and National Department of Science and Technology (DST) (ZAR 10.7 million ~ $ US1.7million)


    Users-driven framework for remote sensing applications in water resources management – Near-real time assessment of water quantity and quality (2015-2016). Co-Investigator. Objective was to document the user needs for monitoring essential variables required to support of water management, including models, algorithms and EO datasets (ZAR 1.7 million ~ $ US 170 000).


    Application development in support of South African Earth Observation Strategy (2010 – 2014)  Co-Principal investigator. Large project to develop diverse Earth observation applications of national interest (funded by National Department of Science and Technology - DST). Applications focused on fire information, land cover change detection, woody vegetation monitoring, time series analysis, data portals and on-line viewers. (ZAR 23 million ~ $US 2.3 million1)


    Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) (2014 -present)  Co-Investigator. Multi-disciplinary project involving most multiple southern African and German research institutions. Our work focuses on mapping woody vegetation cover and biomass in South Africa, Zambia and Namibia with Lidar and SAR data. (Funded by German Federal Ministry for Education and Research) (ZAR 6 million ~ $US 600 0001) (


    User requirements analysis for forestry and land cover applications with EOSAT1 (2014)   Co-Principal Investigator. The project analyzed needs, appropriate information products, algorithms, measurements and sensors required from South Africa’s planned third Earth observation satellite (EOSAT1). The process was led by Dr. Michel Verstraete of South African National Space Agency  (SANSA), formerly of Joint Research Centre (JRC). (funded by SANSA) (ZAR 197 000 ~ $US 19 7001)


    Land cover mapping and change detection (2012-2016) Principal Investigator. R&D project for rapid updating of land cover using change detection and machine learning classification on multi-temporal Landsat and SAR data. (co-funded by SA’s mapping agency, National Geospatial Information – NGI and CSIR)  (ZAR 7 million ~ $US 700 0001)


    Human settlement classification and change detection for SMART infrastructure development (2012-2015)   Co-Principal Investigator: Human settlement classification and change detection using textural features and very high resolution airborne imagery. (co-funded by SA’s mapping agency, National Geospatial Information – NGI and CSIR’s SMART Cities Growth Initiative)  (ZAR 3.9 million ~ $US 390 0001)


    Working groups and committees (SERVICES)

    Present   Member of International Committee on Remote Sensing of Environment (ICORSE) - organize the International Symposium on Remote Sensing of the Environment (ISRSE). Executive Secretary Dr. Charles Hutchinson (University of Arizona), Current Chair – Lawrence Friedl, Director: NASA Applied Sciences.

    Technical Programme Committee co-chair, International Symposium on Remote Sensing of the Environment (ISRSE 37, 2017) to be convened in Pretoria, South Africa. Arranging plenaries, invited special sessions, managing the review of abstracts and compiling the program and editing the proceedings. (


    Member, EOSAT1 Mission Advisory Committee, plan South Africa’s next Earth observation satellite.

    Member, Working Group on Land Cover for Africa - Group of Earth Observation (GEO) task.

    Primary Author, Earth Observation Program, National Space Program of South Africa

    Member, Technical steering Committee, South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)

    Co-chair, South Africa’s Land Cover Community of Practice under SA GEO. Coordinate the activities of users, research institutions and commercial companies to improve land cover data provision at national level.

    Participant, IEEE International Expert Panel’s recommendations on Human Capital Development for Earth Observation Programs, Republic of South Africa. Panel included Dr. Stephen Ungar (NASA), Dr. Melba Crawford (Purdue University), Ellsworth LeDrew (University of Waterloo)

    Panelist, CSIR Strategic Research Panel – Provide strategic leadership to direct CSIR’s R&D programs and investments. Review very large, multi-disciplinary research projects of national strategic importance. (2014 – present)

    Founder, CSIR Space Forum – created a system to enable senior managers in earth observation, sensor development and aerospace to coordinate initiatives and interactions with space agencies and industry.

    Reviewer, National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa, for research proposals and researcher ratings (similar to National Science Foundation in the US)



    CSIR-Meraka, Established Researcher Excellence Award, 2014

    ISRSE37 Best Poster Award 2017 (co-author)

    IEEE GARS Best Paper Award  2011 (co-author)

    CSIR-Meraka, Management Excellence Award 2009

    ISRSE Best Paper Award 2009 (co-author)

    NASA Earth System Sciences Fellowship, 2002 to 2005

    Baker Award for Best Graduate Student in Geography, University of Maryland, USA, 2005.

    Foundation for Research Development (South Africa), Honors degree (1993) and MSc Scholarships (1995, 1996).

    De Beers Consolidated Mines (South Africa), MSc Scholarship 1995, 1996.

    IBM South Africa Scholarships, 1990 to 1993.

    University of Pretoria Outstanding Performance Bursaries 1991-1996.


    Peer-reviewed journal papers 

    H-index = 26  - November 2016

    Mograbi, P.J., Asner, G.P., Witkowski, E.T.F., Erasmus, B.F.N., Wessels, K.J., Mathieu, R., Vaughn, N. (2017) Humans and elephants as treefall drivers in African savannas. Ecography 40: 001–011, 2017

    Wessels, K., van den Bergh, K., Roy, D., Salmon, B., Steenkamp, K.,  McAlister, B., Swanepoel, D., Jewitt, D. (2016). Rapid land cover map updates using change detection and robust Random Forest classifiers. Remote Sensing. 8, 888; doi:10.3390/rs8110888

    Main, R., Mathieu, R., Kleynhans W., Wessels, K., Naidoo, L., Asner G. (2016) Hyper-Temporal C-Band SAR for Baseline Woody Structural Assessments in Deciduous Savannas. Remote Sensing. 2016, 8, 661; doi:10.3390/rs8080661

    Naidoo, L., Mathieu, R., Main, R., Wessels, K., Asner, G.P. (2016). L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery performs better than optical datasets at retrieving woody fractional cover in deciduous, dry savannahs. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. 52, pp 54-64.

    Fisher, J.T., Witkowski, E.T., Erasmus, B.F., Mograbi, P.J., Asner, G.P., Aardt, J.A., Wessels, K.J., & Mathieu, R. (2015). What lies beneath: detecting sub‐canopy changes in savanna woodlands using a three‐dimensional classification method. Applied Vegetation Science, doi: 10.1111/avsc.12160

    Kleynhans, W., Salmon, B., Wessels, K., & Olivier, J. (2015). Rapid detection of new and expanding human settlements in the Limpopo province of South Africa using a spatio-temporal change detection method. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 40, 74-80

    McGlinchy, J., van Aardt, J., Erasmus, B., Asner, G.P., Mathieu, R., Wessels, K., Knapp, D., Kennedy-Bowdoin, T., Rhody, H., & Kerekes, J.P. (2014). Extracting structural vegetation components from small-footprint waveform LiDAR for biomass estimation in savanna ecosystems. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, , 7, 480-490

    Mograbi, P.J., Erasmus, B.F., Witkowski, E., Asner, G.P., Wessels, K.J., Mathieu, R., Knapp, D.E., Martin, R.E., & Main, R. (2015). Biomass Increases Go under Cover: Woody Vegetation Dynamics in South African Rangelands. PLOS One, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0127093

    Naidoo, L., Mathieu, R., Main, R., Kleynhans, W., Wessels, K., Asner, G., & Leblon, B. (2015). Savannah woody structure modelling and mapping using multi-frequency (X-, C-and L-band) Synthetic Aperture Radar data. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 105, 234-250

    Fisher, J., Erasmus, B., Witkowski, E., Van Aardt, J., Asner, G., Wessels, K., & Mathieu, R. (2014a). Management approaches of conservation areas: Differences in woody vegetation structure in a private and a national reserve. South African Journal of Botany, 90, 146-152

    Fisher, J.T., Erasmus, B.F., Witkowski, E.T., Aardt, J., Wessels, K.J., & Asner, G.P. (2014b). Savanna woody vegetation classification–now in 3D. Applied Vegetation Science, 17, 172-184

    Tsela, P., Wessels, K., Botai, J., Archibald, S., Swanepoel, D., Steenkamp, K., & Frost, P. (2014). Validation of the two standard MODIS satellite burned-area products and an empirically-derived merged product in South Africa. Remote Sensing, 6, 1275-1293

    Salmon, B.P., Kleynhans, W., van den Bergh, F., Olivier, J.C., Grobler, T.L., & Wessels, K.J. (2013). Land cover change detection using the internal covariance matrix of the extended Kalman filter over multiple spectral bands. Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, IEEE Journal of, 6, 1079-1085

    Cho, M.A., Mathieu, R., Asner, G.P., Naidoo, L., van Aardt, J., Ramoelo, A., Debba, P., Wessels, K., Main, R., & Smit, I.P. (2012). Mapping tree species composition in South African savannas using an integrated airborne spectral and LiDAR system. Remote Sensing of Environment, 125, 214-226

    Mathieu, R., Naidoo, L., Cho, M.A., Leblon, B., Main, R., Wessels, K., Asner, G.P., Buckley, J., Van Aardt, J., & Erasmus, B.F. (2013). Toward structural assessment of semi-arid African savannahs and woodlands: The potential of multi-temporal polarimetric RADARSAT-2 fine beam images. Remote Sensing of Environment, 138, 215-231

    Wessels K.J., Colgan M.S., Erasmus B.F.N., Asner G.P., Twine W.C., Mathieu R., van Aardt J.A.N., Fisher J.T. and Smit I.P.J.  (2013) Unsustainable fuelwood extraction from South African savannas.  Environmental Research Letters 8: 014007

    Wessel, K.J., Van Den Bergh F., Scholes R.J. (2012) Limits to detectability of land degradation by trend analysis of vegetation index data. Remote Sensing of Environment. 125: 10-22

    Kleynhans W., Salmon B.P., Olivier J.C., van den Bergh F., Wessels K.J., Grobler T.L., et al. (2012) Land Cover Change Detection Using Autocorrelation Analysis on MODIS Time-Series Data: Detection of New Human Settlements in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing. 2012; 5(3):777-83.

    Fensholt, R. et al., Wessels K.J. (2012) Greenness in semi-arid areas across the globe 1981-2007 - an Earth Observing Satellite based analysis of trends and drivers. Remote Sensing of Environment, 121, 144-158

    Fisher J.T., E.T.F. Witkowski,  B.F.N.  Erasmus,  J . vanAardt ,  G. P.   Asner,  K. J.  Wessels, R.  Mathieu (2011) Human-modified landscapes: patterns of fine-scale woody vegetation structure in communal savannah rangelands. Environmental Conservation 39 (1): 72–82

    Salmon, B.P., Olivier J.C., Kleynhans W., Wessels KJ, Van den Bergh F, Steenkamp K.C. (2011) The use of a multilayer perceptron for detecting new human settlements from a time series of MODIS images. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 13:  873-883

    Wessels K.J., Mathieu R., Erasmus B.F.N.,  Asner G.P., Smit I.P.J., van Aardt J.A.N., Main R., Fisher J., Marais W., Kennedy-Bowdoin T., Knapp D.E., Emerson R., Jacobson J. (2011) Impact of communal land use and conservation on woody vegetation structure in the Lowveld savannas of South Africa. Forest Ecology and Management. 261: 19-29

    Wessels K., Steenkamp K., von Maltitz G., Archibald S. (2011) Remotely-sensed vegetation phenology for describing and predicting the biomes of South Africa. Applied Vegetation Science, 14: 49-66.

    Salmon B.P., J.C. Olivier, K.J. Wessels, W. Kleynhans, F. van den Bergh, and K. C. Steenkamp (2010) Unsupervised land cover change detection: Meaningful Sequential Time Series Analysis. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing. 4: 327-335

    Wessels. K.J. (2009) Comments on ‘Proxy global assessment of land degradation’ by Bai et al. (2008) Soil Use and Management, March 2009, 25, 91–92.

    Van Den Bergh F., Wessels K.J. et al. (2011) HiTempo: a platform for time-series analysis of remote sensing satellite data in a high performance computing environment. International Journal of Remote Sensing – Time series analysis special issue: 33: 4720–4740

    Kleynhans, W., J.C. Olivier, K.J. Wessels, F. van den Bergh, B.P. Salmon (2011) Detecting Land Cover Change Using an Extended Kalman Filter on MODIS NDVI Time-Series Data, IEEE Geoscience And Remote Sensing Letters, VOL. 8, NO. 3,  Doi: 10.1109/LGRS.2010.2089495

    Kleynhans, W.,  J.C. Olivier, K.J. Wessels, F. van den Bergh, B.P. Salmon and K. Steenkamp (2010) Improving Land Cover Class Separation using an Extended Kalman Filter on MODIS NDVI Time Series Data. IEEE GeoScience and Remote Sensing Letters. 7(2) 381-385

    Wessels, K.J., Prince, S.D., and Reshef, I. (2008) Mapping land degradation by comparison of vegetation production to spatially-derived estimates of potential production. Journal of Arid Environments. 72, 1940-1949.

    Wessels, K.J., Prince S.D., M. Carroll and J. Malherbe (2007) Relevance of rangeland degradation in semi-arid Northeastern South Africa to the non-equilibrium theory. Ecological Applications. 17, 815-827

    Prince S.D., Wessels K.J., Tucker C.J. and Nicholson S.E. (2007) Desertification in the Sahel: a reinterpretation of a reinterpretation. Global Change Biology.13, 1308-1313.

    Wessels K.J., Prince S.D., Malherebe J., Small J. and P.E. Frost (2007) Can human-induced land degradation be distinguished from the effects of rainfall variability? A case study in South Africa. Journal of Arid Environments, 68, 271-297.

    Deppe J.L., Wessels K.J. and Smith J.A. (2007) Alaska at the Crossroads of Migration: Space-Based Ornithology. Alaska Park Science Vol. 6

    Wessels K.J., Prince S.D., Zambatis N., Macfadyen S., Frost P.E. and D. VanZyl (2006) Relationship between herbaceous biomass and 1km2 Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) NDVI in Kruger National Park, South Africa. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 27, 951-973.

    Wessels K.J., S.D. Prince, Frost P.E., van Zyl D. (2004) Assessing the effects of human-induced land degradation in the former homelands of northern South Africa with a 1km AVHRR NDVI time-series. Remote Sensing of Environment, 91, 47-67.

    Wessels K.J., DeFries, R., Anderson L.O., Hansen A.J., Powell, S.L. and Moran E.F. (2004) Mapping regional land cover with MODIS data for biological conservation: Examples from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA and Pará State, Brazil. Remote Sensing of Environment 92, 67-83.

    Wessels K.J., Reyers B., Van Jaarsveld A.S. and Rutherford M.C. (2003) Identification of potential conflict areas between land transformation and biodiversity conservation in north-eastern South Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 95, 157-178.

    McCarthy J.M., Gumbricht T., McCarthy T., Frost P.E., Wessels K.J. and Seidel F. (2003) Flooding Patterns of the Okavango Wetland in Botswana between 1972 and 2000. Ambio, 32, 453-457.

    Gumbricht T.,  McCarthy T.S.,  McCarthy J.M., Roy D., Frost P.E., Wessels K.J. (2002) Remote sensing to detect sub-surface peat fires and peat fire scars in the Okavango delta, Botswana. South African Journal of Science 98, 351-358.

    Reyers B., Wessels K.J. and van Jaarsveld A.S (2002) An assessment of biodiversity surrogacy options in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. African Zoology 37, 185-195.

    Erasmus B.F.N., Van Jaarsveld A.S. Chown S.L.., Kshatriya M. and Wessels K.J. (2002) Vulnerability of South African animal taxa to climate change. Global Change Biology 8, 679-693.

    Reyers B., Fairbanks D.H.K., Wessels K.J., and Van Jaarsveld A.S. (2002) A multicriteria approach to reserve selection: Addressing long-term biodiversity maintenance.  Biodiversity and Conservation 11, 769-793.

    Wessels K.J., Reyers B. and Van Jaarsveld A.S. (2000) Incorporating land cover information into regional biodiversity assessments in South Africa. Animal Conservation 3, 67-79.

    Wessels K.J., Freitag S. and Van Jaarsveld A.S. (1999) The use of Land Facets as Biodiversity Surrogates during reserve selection at a Local Scale. Biological Conservation 89, 21-38.

    Wessels K.J., Grimbeek J.D., Van Der Linde M.J. and Van Jaarsveld A.S. (1998) An Evaluation of the Gradsect Biological Survey method. Biodiversity and Conservation 7, 1093-1121.



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    Recruitment agencies are only eligible for a Gold package and recruitment agencies recruiting for companies already using Space Careers will not be accepted.

    To ensure you are approved, please include the following on your application:
    * The website address of your Company. Under construction websites will be rejected.
    * Email - Must end in Applications using free email accounts such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail will be rejected.

    Individual exceptions can be made on a case by case basis by emailing Accounts found not to be in compliance will be deleted.

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