Troy Magney: New UC Davis Plant Sciences Professor in Plant and Environmental Informatics

Troy Magney, UC Davis
Troy Magney is a new Plant Sciences professor at UC Davis, focusing on plant and environmental informatics, and remote sensing. (photo Ann Filmer/UC Davis)

Joining the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis as a new assistant professor is Troy Magney, who most recently worked as a research scientist in the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in Pasadena, California.

Magney strives to better understand plant systems through the lens of remote sensing and environmental informatics. This interdisciplinary work combines the fields of plant ecophysiology, biophysics, optics, and statistical and computer science.

His lab develops instruments and methods for mapping vegetation structure and function at the leaf, tower, airborne, and satellite scales. This includes optical sensors that measure vegetation reflectance, thermal emission and solar-induced fluorescence (SIF), as well as active sensors (lidar, radar, microwave). The work spans the plant kingdom – from agricultural applications (i.e., water and nutrient use efficiencies) to managed and unmanaged ecosystems (i.e., CO2 uptake, productivity, and stress).

In addition to his research, starting next year Magney will also teach courses on plant and environmental informatics, and plant remote sensing.

Troy Magney, UC Davis
Troy Magney, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis. (photo Ann Filmer/UC Davis)

Magney’s Background

During his four years at NASA and Caltech, Magney focused on whether photosynthesis can be seen from space – doing this by developing techniques to look at chlorophyll fluorescence. His team put sensors on towers in order to look down at forests and fields to make the same measurements that satellites make. They scaled this understanding to produce global maps of photosynthesis which help researchers understand carbon uptake by the terrestrial biosphere.

He will continue a couple of his NASA projects at UC Davis, and will develop a number of new interdisciplinary projects on applied plant sciences, both in agricultural crops and ecosystems.

Prior to his work with NASA, Magney received his Ph.D. from the University of Idaho, working on remote sensing of vegetation with lidar and hyper-spectral analysis. The goal was to develop tools to map nutrient and water use efficiencies in crops, as well as understand carbon cycling in the Arctic tundra. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Denver, majoring in Physical Geography with a focus on remote sensing.

“The undergraduate course that really peaked my interest in plant physiology was a desert ecology course,” said Magney. “Having been raised in Minnesota, studying desert plants in New Mexico and Arizona fascinated me, and my interest in tinkering with instruments led me to want to measure plant physiology with remote sensing.” This was a good multidisciplinary mix for him.

Why UC Davis?

“My primary research interests are developing new tools to better quantify and understand local and global carbon and water cycles in plants,” said Magney.

With UC Davis serving as a leading global hub for plant sciences and applied research on critical issues such as climate change, he knew this is where he could have a major impact with collaborating scientists.

And with California’s diverse ecosystems (agriculture, forests, coastal areas, deserts, etc.), he looks forward to working with other investigators on using remote sensing and other tools to scale research from single plots to farms, forests, and large-scale ecosystems.

An avid outdoorsman, Magney is already exploring this area of California, and is enjoying the many bicycling opportunities at UC Davis and in the surrounding region.


(Article by Ann Filmer, Department of Plant Sciences. December 5, 2019)