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Highlights Archive
Earth Science Division Highlights for Spring-Summer 2010

Airborne Sensor Facility’s DCS captures images of Gulf Oil Spill

From May 6-25, the Airborne Science Program deployed the ER-2 in support of a formal flight request, received from Ira Leifer (NASA PI) of UC Santa Barbara, for Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) data over the Gulf of Mexico.  NASA also received a request from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for detailed images of the Gulf and its threatened coastal wetlands. The AVIRIS instrument was used to measure how water absorbs and reflects light.  This data was used to map the location and concentration of oil, which separates into a widespread, thin sheen and smaller thick patches.  In addition to the AVIRIS instrument, the ER-2 carried the Cirrus Digital Camera System (DCS), which is supplied by SG’s Airborne Sensor Facility.  Below is an image of “ground zero” of the spill captured by the DCS at 40,000 ft.  A number of British Petroleum ships attempt to contain the spill.

SGG Participation in CalNEX

Warren Gore (Chief, SGG) and Tony Trias (SGG; see image below) were in San Francisco, June 8, unloading the Solar Spectral Flux Radiometer (SSRF) instrument from the NOAA research vessel Atlantis.  The vessel and crew had just completed a 3-week mission that was part of CalNEX, the state and federal project to understand the origin of pollutants and greenhouse gases and how they affect air quality and climate change in California.  During the previous three weeks, the ship had traveled from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco to measure air quality/pollution over coastal California, including sampling emissions from cargo ships.  The mission included using NOAA’s P-3 aircraft and other small twin-engine planes to study the mixture of pollutants in clouds and their effect on cloud composition.

(Photo: Atlantic Journal-Constitution)

SG Staff selected for Earth Venture Award

NASA announced selections for the $30M Earth Venture missions, May 27.  Among the proposals selected was the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX), to be led by PI Eric Jensen (SGG).  The project will study the processes that control the flow of atmospheric gases into the stratosphere and the subsequent effects on the Earth’s climate, the ozone layer and the retention of solar energy.  The Earth Science Project Office (ESPO), led by Marilyn Vasques, Kent Shiffer and Dave Jordan, is providing Project Management for ATTREX.  Airborne campaigns are scheduled for four different times of the year flying from bases in California, Guam, Hawaii and Australia.  ESPO will also provide Project Management for a second selection, NASA Goddard’s Hurricane mission.  Bob Chatfield (SGG) is a science Co–I on NASA Langley’s Air Quality mission.

Of five selections, four were won by NASA centers - Ames, Goddard, JPL and Langley - and the fifth by the University of Michigan.  The Ames and Goddard proposals will use NASA's new Global Hawk UAS platform.

Congratulations to Eric as well as to Lenny Pfister (SGG) who also did heavy lifting on the ATTREX proposal, and to ESPO and to Bob Chatfield.

CASIE Team receives Group Achievement Award

Congratulations to Matt Fladeland and the entire CASIE team for the NASA Group Achievement Award.  Fladeland represented the team at the NASA Honor Awards Ceremony, held June 9 at NASA Ames.  Charles Scales, NASA Associate Deputy Administrator, presented the awards along with Center Director Pete Worden and Lynnette Jacome.  (For more information re. CASIE, go to

Vince Ambrosia serves as visiting professor at UPC, Spain

Vince Ambrosia (CSUMB) was a Visiting Professor, April 5-16, in the Computer Architecture Department and Aeronautics Department at the Polytechnical University of Catalunya (UPC), in Casteldefells, Spain.  He lectured in the graduate-level classes, "Introduction to UAV" (20 hours of lectures). Course content included History of UAS, Science Applications and Fire Monitoring Applications, Payloads, Flight Plan Concepts, COA Procedures / Airspace Integration, Communications Systems, and Mission Architecture.  Ambrosia was supported through a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education for visiting faculty.

Additionally, Ambrosia presented an open-campus / community "Master in Aerospace Science and Technology Conference Seminar" on April 15th at the UPC to an audience of 100 graduate students, faculty, university staff, and members of various Spanish aerospace professions on "Innovative Solutions for Airborne Fire Monitoring: UAS, Intelligent Sensors, and Data Visualization Systems."

Presentations / Conferences

Vince Ambrosia was invited to present at the Interactive Situational Awareness Simulation (ISAS) Workshop hosted by the NSF Center for Hybrid Multicore Productivity Research (CHMPR) Site at the University of California, San Diego, May 25-26.  His talk was on the Western States Fire Missions and the Real-Time Situational Awareness Information.

Ambrosia was invited to be a Panel Member at the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) Disasters Roundtable Workshop, "From Reality 2010 to Vision 2020: Translating Remotely Sensed Data to Assets, Exposure, Damage and Losses" at the Keck Center of the National Academies in Washington, DC on July 8, 2010.

Proposals funded

Friedemann Freund (SETI) and Vern Vanderbilt (SGE) took delivery on May 26 of 19 tons of very large granite boulders provided by the GraniteRock Corporation (see image below).  The seven boulders will be measured as part of a new project, "Realizing the Potential of Radar Reflectivity Changes for Volcano and Earthquake Monitoring," funded under the NASA IPP program, to test whether the radar reflectivity of granite rocks changes in the weeks and days prior to an earthquake. The research results have the potential to revolutionize this country’s approach to the national and global challenges posed by earthquakes.

Freund’s Exobiology proposal, "Preformed Complex Organic Molecules from the Matrix of Magmatic Minerals," has been approved by HQ for 3 year funding.

Jens Redemann (BAER Institute) was awarded a grant for "Characterizing aerosol direct radiative effects in clear skies and above clouds, and near-cloud spatial distributions of aerosol radiative properties based on combined aerosol observations from CALIPSO and other A-Train sensors." The grant is for $846K over three years, and was awarded in response to a ROSES’ CALIPSO/CloudSat Science Team recompete solicitation.

Phil Russell (SGG) will be PI on the recently awarded ROSES proposal, “Determining Aerosol Composition from Glory APS and OMI Data Using Techniques from Air and Ground Studies.” Co-Is include John Livingston (SRI), Yokei Shinozuka (Oak Ridge Assoc. Universities), Tony Strawa (SGG), and Jens Redemann (BAER Inst.).  Project Collaborators include Bob Bergstrom (BAER Inst.), Mian Chin and Brian Cairns (NASA Goddard), and Omar Torres (Hampton Univ., VA).

Recent Publications:

A Meteorological Overview of the TC4 mission by L. Pfister (SGG), H. B. Selkirk (UMBC), D. O. Starr (NASA GSFC), K. Rosenlof (NOAA), and P. A. Newman (NASA GSFC) has been accepted by JGR Atmospheres and is in press.  This paper discusses the global upper tropospheric and tropical tropopause layer circulation, and the meteorology of the Central America region during summer, 2007.  The emphasis is on the origin of air masses sampled during the TC4 aircraft mission, and the strength of convection.  The paper examines the similarities and differences between summer 2007 and a typical year so as to assess the typification of the focused TC4 field experiment.

The major findings were: (1) the relatively low frequency of the deepest convection in Central America during the summer of 2007 due to an incipient La Nina; and (2) unusually persistent easterly flow at the top of the Tropical Tropopause Layer, allowing air from the Asian monsoon region to reach the sampled area in Central America.

2010 Summer Students

Fridemann Freund will be working with the following students on these projects:

  • Jake Edman (SETI REU program): "Remnant Magnetization Asymmetry on the Ocean Floor Parallel to Mid-Ocean Ridges" (In collaboration with Patrick Hogan, WorldWind).
  • Colin Williams (SETI REU program), Garrett Williams and Matthew Stemms (both SETI STAR program): "Measuring infrared emission, ultra-low frequency electromagnetic emissions, radar reflectivity changes, and air ionization during stressing of gabbro-diorite boulders.”
  • Alex Bogatko (NASA Academy): "Evaluating Earthquake Hazard from a Systems Engineering Perspective" (In collaboration with Gerald Temple, retired Ames Systems Engineer).
  • Christina Bridge (Lancaster University, UK ): "Seebeck Coefficient Measurements of Minerals as a Tool to Determine Band Structures.”


This year’s students are:

Marco Allain (CalStateU, Bakersfield)
Evan Johnson (UCLA)
Emily Williams (UCSB)
Andrew Nguyen (CalState Univ. East Bay)
Stephanie Tsai (Henry M. Gunn High School)
Amber Jean Kuss (SFSU)
Michelle Newcomer (SFSU)
Alex Remar (Cal Polytechnic State U)
Tyler Ketron (Stanford Univ.)
Vivek Choksi (Gunn High School)
Ann Watson (East Central Univ., OK)
Krysti Sukita (Santa Clara Univ.)
Wei-Chen Hsu (Sacramento State)
Rachael Marzion (UC Berkeley)
Eve Minkin (Los Altos High)
Katherine Pitts (SJSU)
Arina Gonzales (Cal Poly, Pomona)

Their research projects include two teams researching salt pond restoration (one concerned with sedimentation history and patterns, and another studying present vegetation and possible future vegetation structure); Bark Beetle infestation in the Okanagan-Wanochi Forrest, Washington; and Climate Change and its effects on NASA Ames. Read more about this year's teams.

Science Teachers visit NASA Ames and Earth Science Division

Science teachers from various local middle schools visited NASA Ames, June 25.  Division Chief Steve Hipskind gave an overview of Earth Science activities and Jay Skiles (SGE) detailed the DEVELOP Program.  Their visit included a tour of the flight simulators and a discussion of NASA Education Opportunities delivered by Tom Clausen.  The group was part of the Chabot Science Center program under the direction of Stan Fukunaga.

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