James W. Merchant

1948 - 2015

Jim Merchant, professor of geography at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and aspecialist in applied remote sensing and GIS, passed away on February 27, 2015, at the age of 67.

James William Merchant Junior was born on November 10, 1947. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from Townson State University (1969) followed by a master’s degree also in geography from University of Kansas (1973).

He began his career at the University of Kansas Space Technology Center. From 1979 to 1986 he worked as a senior remote sensing specialist on the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program and completed his doctorate (1984). He went on to serve as an Assistant Professor of geography at the University of Kansas. During this time Merchant was the co-founder of the MidAmerica GIS Consortium (MAGIC) and hosted the first MAGIC Symposium in 1988.

In 1989, Merchant moved to University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) to take up a post as Associate Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science in the School of Natural Resources. In 1998 he was promoted to Professor.

His research and teaching interests focused on the applications of remote sensing and GIS in natural resources management and environmental assessment. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in these areas, and also offered an annual professional seminar focusing on research methods and professional development in geography. In addition he held a courtesy professor appointment in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture.

Merchant also made an important contribution to the university’s Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies (CALMIT), serving as associate director (1989-2008) then director (2008-2011). During his tenure, he greatly enhanced and broadened the scope of the center’s activities. His research focused on land-cover mapping with coarse-resolution satellite data.

Merchant was a major player in the widespread implementation of GIS technology in the state of Nebraska. He was instrumental in working with many partners in the formation of the Nebraska Geographic Information System Steering Committee (NGISSC) which was established by the Nebraska Legislature in 1991. In 1998, he was one of GIS professionals that began the formation of an organization for Nebraska GIS users called the Nebraska GIS LIS Association.

The applied nature of Merchant’s work is seen in the large number of grant-funded projects that he led. In recent years these included: Implementation of the AmericaView Program in Nebraska for the U.S. Geological Survey; Geospatial Data Analysis Support for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency; Monitoring, Mapping, Risk and Management of Invasive Species in Nebraska for Nebraska Environmental Trust; Land Use and Land Cover Mapping of Nebraska for Nebraska Department of Natural Resources; and GIS Support for the Nebraska Health and Human Services System.

Don Rundquist, emeritus professor and former CALMIT director, said “Jim had exceptional skill in dealing with the staff of governmental agencies and he definitely knew how to get things done.”

Recognition for Merchant’s work included Alan Gordon Award from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (1991), ERDAS Award for best scientific paper in remote sensing (1994), John Wesley Powell Award from the U.S. Geological Survey (1997), Outstanding Contributions Award from the Nebraska GIS/LIS Association (1999), Career Achievements Award from the MidAmerica GIS Consortium (2004), and Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Geological Survey (2005).

Merchant was a member of the Association of American Geographers since 1979 and actively involved in the activities of the Great Plains­­–Rocky Mountains Division and the West Lakes Division. The AAG’s Remote Sensing Specialty Group recognized his work with an Outstanding Contributions Award in 1998.

He was also an elected a fellow of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and given their Outstanding Service Award in 2008.

Merchant was due to retire in June 2015. Until his untimely death he was still teaching courses, supervising PhD students, publishing papers and writing portions of the Academic Program Review document.

Director of the School of Natural Resources, John Carroll, said “Jim loved UNL and the School of Natural Resources. But more importantly, he loved geography and teaching students. When he was getting sick, the thing he was most concerned about were the students in his courses. We have lost a colleague, friend and true academic.”

Jim leaves behind his wife, Loyola Caron, and their children, Karl and Anne, as well as four siblings and their children.