Kyle C. McDonald

Terry Elkes Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Additional Departments/Affiliated Programs

Areas of Expertise/Research

  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Coastal Wetlands
  • Cryosphere
  • Ecology
  • Energy Cycle
  • Remote Sensing of Terrestrial Ecosystems
  • Terrestrial Hydrology
  • Water Cycle


Marshak Science Building




(212) 650-8218

(818) 434-8937


Kyle C. McDonald


2011— present Terry Elkes Professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences,

                           Department Chair, 2016-2019

                           The City College of New York (CCNY), The City University of New York (CUNY), New York, NY, USA.

                           CUNY Affiliations:

     Doctoral Faculty, CUNY Graduate Center,

  • Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) Program
  • Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior (EEB) Program

      CUNY Environmental Crossroads Initiative

      CUNY CREST Institute Associate Director for Science

      Senior Scientist, NOAA CESSRT Center

2011— present  Faculty Part-Time, Water and Carbon Cycles Group, Science Division

                            Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.

1991 - 2011         Principal Scientist (2008), Research Scientist (2000), Member of Technical Staff (1991), Science Division

                            Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.

2008-present      Research Scientist (RS-V 2018), Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering (JIFRESSE), University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.

2018-present      Associate, Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS), California Institute of Technology. Pasadena, California. USA

2009-2011           Lecturer, Division of Astronautical Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California. USA

2008-2011           Faculty Adjunct, University of Montana Flathead Lake Biological Station, Polson, Montana. USA

2000-2008           Faculty Affiliate, University of Montana Flathead Lake Biological Station, Polson, Montana. USA

1997                    Visiting Scientist, Bayreuth Institute for Terrestrial Ecosystem Research (BITÖK). The University of Bayreuth, Germany.

1985--1991          Graduate Student Research Assistant and NASA Fellow, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. USA

1983--1985          Associate Engineer, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland  USA




Ph.D.      Electrical Engineering, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (1991)

               Major field of specialization: Electromagnetic theory specializing in microwave remote sensing.

               Minor field of specialization: Circuit theory.

               Ph. D. DISSERTATIONModeling Microwave Backscatter from Tree Canopies


M.S.       Electrical Engineering, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (1986)

M.S.       Numerical Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1985)

Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (1983, Co-operative plan with highest honors.)


Research Profile

Professor McDonald is active in research involving remote sensing of Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems and cryosphere. He specializes in electromagnetic scattering and propagation with emphasis on microwave remote sensing of complex media. His research has emphasized the use of active and passive microwave sensors including interpretation and modeling of microwave backscatter and emissivity. Dr. McDonald conducts and supports research integrating remote sensing data with ecosystem and hydrologic process models for improved characterization of land-atmosphere carbon dioxide and methane fluxes, surface hydrologic processes, and vegetation productivity, including cold season controls on vegetation productivity. Over the past several years his primary research activities have focused on the application of microwave remote sensing techniques for monitoring seasonal dynamics in boreal ecosystems as related to ecological and hydrological processes. He is a recognized expert on the application of microwave remote sensing to cold land ecology and hydrology and a recognized authority on application of microwave remote sensing of land surfaces. Research activities have included designing and conducting field experiments, designing and developing ground-based instrumentation, collecting ground-based and remote sensing data, processing and interpretation of field data, and computer modeling of backscatter and emissivity signatures. Remote sensing research has utilized the synthetic aperture radars (SARs) on-board the ERS-1/2, JERS-1, RADARSAT and ALOS satellite platforms, the ERS scatterometers, the NASA scatterometer (NSCAT), the SeaWinds scatterometer, the NASA/JPL aircraft SAR systems (AIRSAR and UAVSAR), and spaceborne radiometers (AMSR-E, SSM/I). On-going research includes computer modeling and field experiments designed to investigate and quantify the relationship between vegetation biophysical parameters and radar backscatter.


Dr. McDonald has been active in advancing NASA and ESA Earth Mission Concepts (NISAR, SMAP, Hydros, Cold Land Process, CoReH2O) and NASA Instrument Incubator Program investigations.  He was previously the key science lead of the freeze/thaw element of the Hydros ESSP mission and served as the Hydros Freeze/Thaw algorithm lead. His effort was one of key factors in resulting in the selection of the Hydros proposal by NASA for risk-reduction studies under the ESSP-3 program. He supported the SMAP mission in this context. He is a member of the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) Kyoto and Carbon Initiative panel, supporting the use of JERS, PALSAR and PALSAR-2 datasets for carbon cycle-related research. He is a member of NASA’s High Mountain Asia Team (HiMAT) and of NASA’s NASA-ISRP SAR (NISAR) Science Team

Recent Publications (Selected)


Brown MG, McDonald KC, Zimmermann R,   Steiner N, DeVries S, and Bourgeau-Chavez L, Characterization of Site-Specific Vegetation Activity in Alaskan Wet and Dry Tundra Sites as Related to Climate and Soil Conditions, Ecosphere (in review)

Davitt A, Jonathan M. Winter and K. C. McDonald, 2020. Combining radiative transfer and crop management modeling with Sentinel-1A SAR to assess crop growth and development. Remote Sensing of Environment (in review)                          

Gomez AM, KC McDonald, K Shein, S DeVries, RA Armstrong, WJ Hernandez, M Carlo, 2020. Comparison of Satellite-Based Sea Surface Temperature to In Situ Observations of Microclimate Surrounding Coral Reefs in La Parguera, Puerto Rico, Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans (in preparation).

Rosenqvist J, A Rosenqvist, K. Jensen, and K C McDonald, 2020. Mapping of Inundation Extent in the Amazon Basin 2014-2017 with ALOS-2 PALSAR ScanSAR Data. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, Special Issue on Advanced Remote Sensing in Movement Ecology. (in press).

Saunois, M, Stavert AR, Poulter, B et al.  (2020) The global methane budget 2000–2017.  Earth System Science Data, (in review)



Davitt A, G. Schumann, C. Forgotson and K. C. McDonald, 2019. “The Utility of SMAP Soil Moisture and Freeze-Thaw Datasets as Precursors to Spring-Melt Flood Conditions: A Case Study in the Red River of the North Basin," in IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, vol. 12, no. 8, pp. 2848-2861. doi: 10.1109/JSTARS.2019.2918947

Jensen K, and K C McDonald, 2019. Surface Water Microwave Product Series (SWAMPS) Version 3: A Near-Real Time and 25-year Historical Global Inundated Area Fraction Time Series from Active and Passive Microwave Remote Sensing. IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters Print ISSN: 1545-598X Online ISSN: 1558-0571 Digital Object Identifier: 10.1109/LGRS.2019.2898779

Kayastha RB., Steiner N., Kayastha R., Mishra S.K., McDonald K., 2019, Comparative study of hydrology and icemelt in three Nepal river basins using the glacio-hydrological degree-day model (GDM) and observations from the Advance Scatterometer (ASCAT). Frontiers in Earth Science. 2019, dec, vol 7, p354, doi 10.3389/feart.2019.00354.

Lamb B, Tzortziou M, and McDonald KC, 2019. Evaluation of Approaches for Mapping Tidal Wetlands of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Remote Sens. 2019, 11(20), 2366



Hartery S, Commane R, Lindaas J, Sweeney C, Henderson J, Mountain M, Steiner N, McDonald K, Steven J. Dinardo SJ, Charles E. Miller CE, Steven C. Wofsy SC and Chang RY-W. Estimating regional-scale methane flux and budgets using CARVE aircraft measurements over Alaska. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 18(1), 185-202.

Jensen, K, McDonald, K.; Podest, E.; Rodriguez-Alvarez, N.; Horna, V.; Steiner, N., Assessing L-Band GNSS-Reflectometry and Imaging Radar for Detecting Sub-Canopy Inundation Dynamics in a Tropical Wetlands Complex. Remote Sens. 2018, 10, 1431.



Bloom A, Bowman KW, Lee M, Turner AJ, Schroeder R, Worden JR, Weidner R, McDonald KC, and Jacob DJ. .A global wetland methane emissions and uncertainty dataset foratmospheric chemical transport models (WetCHARTs version 1.0)A. Geosci. Model Dev., 10, 2141–2156, 2017

Pandey, S., Houweling, S., Krol, M. Aben I, Monteil G, Nechita-Banda N, Dlugokencky EJ, Detmers R, Hasekamp O, Xu X, Riley WJ, Poulter B, Zhang Z, McDonald KC, White JWC, Bousquet P and Röckmann T. Enhanced methane emissions from tropical wetlands during the 2011 La Niña. Sci Rep 7, 45759 (2017).

Poulter,B,  P Bousquet, JG Canadell, P Ciais, A Peregon, M Saunois, VK Arora, DJ Beerling, V Brovkin, CD Jones, F Joos, N Gedney, A Ito, T Kleinen, CD Koven, K McDonald, JR Melton, C Peng, S Peng, C Prigent, R Schroeder, WJ Riley, M Saito, R Spahni, H Tian, L Taylor, N Viovy, D Wilton, A Wiltshire, X Xu, B Zhang, Z Zhang, Q Zhu 2017. Global wetland contribution to 2000–2012 atmospheric methane growth rate dynamics, Environ. Res. Lett. 12 094013



Saunois M., Bousquet, P, Poulter, B et al. (78 more authors)  (2016) The global methane budget 2000–2012.  Earth System Science Data, 8 (2).    pp. 697-751.  ISSN 1866-3508

Schroeder, R., KC McDonald, M Azarderakhsh, and R Zimmermann, 2016. ASCAT Metop-A diurnal backscatter observations of recent vegetation drought patterns over the contiguous U.S.: An assessment of spatial extent and relationship with precipitation and crop yield, Remote Sens. 2016.

Xu X, Riley WJ, Koven CD, Billesbach DP, Chang RY-W, Commane R , Euskirchen ES, Hartery S, Harazono Y, Iwata H, McDonald KC, Miller CE, Oechel WC, Poulter B, Raz-Yaseef N, Sweeney C, Torn M,  Wofsy SC,  Zhang Z, and Zona D. A multi-scale comparison of modeled and observed seasonalmethane emissions in northern wetlands. Biogeosciences, 13, 5043–5056,



Bateni, M., S.,Margulis, S. Podest E and McDonald, K., 2015. Characterizing Snowpack and the Freeze-Thaw State of Underlying Soil via Assimilation of Multifrequency Passive/Active Microwave Data: A Case Study (NASA CLPX 2003), IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Vol 53, no 1. DOI: 10.1109/TGRS.2014.2320264, pp 173 – 189.

Bohn, T. J., Melton, J. R., Ito, A., Kleinen, T., Spahni, R., Stocker, B. D., Zhang, B., Zhu, X., Schroeder, R., Glagolev, M. V., Maksyutov, S., Brovkin, V., Chen, G., Denisov, S. N., Eliseev, A. V., Gallego-Sala, A., McDonald, K. C., Rawlins, M. A., Riley, W. J., Subin, Z. M., Tian, H., Zhuang, Q., and Kaplan, J. O.: WETCHIMP-WSL: intercomparison of wetland methane emissions models over West Siberia, Biogeosciences Discuss., 12, 1907-1973, doi:10.5194/bgd-12-1907-2015, 2015.

Chapman, B.; McDonald, K.; Shimada, M.; Rosenqvist, A.; Schroeder, R.; Hess, L., 2015. Mapping Regional Inundation with Spaceborne L-Band SAR. Remote Sens. 2015, 7, 5440-5470.

Du J., Kimball, J.S., Azarderakhsh, M., Dunbar, R.S.,  Moghaddam, M.,  McDonald, K.C., 2015. Classification of Alaska Spring Thaw Characteristics Using Satellite L-Band Radar Remote Sensing. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, vol 53, no 1, pp 542-556.

Pistolesi L.I., Ni-Meister W., McDonald K. C., 2015. Mapping wetlands in the Hudson Highlands ecoregion with ALOS PALSAR: An effort to identify potential swamp forest habitat for Golden-winged Warblers. Wetlands Ecology and Management special issue on ALOS Kyoto and Carbon Initiative. Volume 23, Issue 1 , pp 95-112.

Schroeder, R., KC McDonald, B Chapman, K Jensen, E Podest, Z Tessler, TJ Bohn, and R Zimmermann, 2015 Development and Evaluation of a Multi-Year Fractional Surface Water Data Set Derived from Active/Passive Microwave Remote Sensing Data, Remote Sens. 2015, 7, 16688–16732; doi:10.3390/rs71215843

Sequera P, JE González, KC McDonald, RD Bornstein, and D Comarazamy, 2015. Combined impacts of land-cover changes and large-scale forcing on Southern California summer daily maximum temperatures.  J of Geophysical Res.-Atmosphere.  DOI: 10.1002/2015JD023536.



Podest, E, McDonald KC, and Kimball JS, 2014 Multi Sensor Microwave Sensitivity to Freeze Thaw Dynamics across a Complex Boreal Landscape, IEEE Trans on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Vol 52, no 11. pp. 6818 – 6828.

Sweeney A., Kruczkiewicz A, Reid C, Seaman J, Abubakar A, Ritmeijer K, Doggale C, Jensen K, Schroeder R., McDonald KC, Thomson M, Elnaiem D, Ceccato P. 2014. Utilizing Earth Remote Sensing Observations to Explore the Relationship between Environmental Factors and Visceral Leishmaniasis in the Northern States of the Republic of South Sudan, Earthzine, 13 May 2014.

Waltari E., Schroeder R., McDonald K., Anderson RP,  Carnaval A, 2014. Bioclimatic variables derived from climate reanalysis and remote sensing data sources: assessment and application for species distribution modeling. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, vol 5,no 10,  DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12264, pp. 1033–1042.