Dr. Townshend is now fully retired and is no longer taking on new graduate students.

He earned his BSc (1967) and PhD (1971) in geography from University College London. Dr. Townshend has held academic positions at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the University of Reading, UK and Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He also held a senior National Academy of Sciences fellowship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He has held affiliate positions at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computing Studies and the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center.

Dr. Townshend serves as a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Digital Earth. a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the College of Global Change and Earth Sciences, Beijing Normal University and the Scientific Steering Committee of the Institute for Global Change Studies, Tsinghua University. He served as chair of the Advisory Committee to the United Nations Environment Programme’s Division of Early Warning and Assessment for North America, as chair of the Joint Scientific and Technical Board of the Global Climate Observing System, as chair of the IGBP’s Data and Information System’s Standing Committee, as President of the Earth Science Information Partnership’s Federation and as Chairman of the NASA/NOAA AVHRR Pathfinder Science Working Group for Land Applications. He has served on several committees of the National Research Council.

He received the Royal Geographical Society’s Back Award in 1984 and the William T. Pecora Award for Outstanding Leadership in Advancing Global Remote Sensing in 2005. He was made Guest Professor at Beijing Normal University in 2006, an Honorary Professor at the University of Wuhan in 2007. In 2011 he was made Honorary Professor of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Honorary Professor at the Center for Earth Observations and Digital Earth of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He received the Earth Science Information Partners’ Martha Maiden Lifetime Achievement Award for services to the environmental science Information community in 2011.

In 2009 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the United Kingdom’s Remote Sensing and Photogrammetric Society and in 2020 was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Under his leadership as chair (1989-1995 and 2001-2009), the Department of Geographical Sciences earned a reputation as one of the leading US geography departments. His research focused on the rates and causes of vegetation cover change, especially deforestation, through the use of remotely sensed data from satellites, funded primarily through NASA grants. He was also the principal investigator of the Global Land Cover Facility, which housed the largest open access non-governmental online collection of Landsat data in the world. He has authored and co-authored more than 150 articles in the refereed literature and has contributed more than 30 book chapters. He has also co-authored three books.

After his second term as chair, he served for 5 years as Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences from 2009 to 2014.

CV: Curriculum Vitae136.9 KB


  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    University College London
John R. Townshend
jtownshe [at] umd.edu