Two Points!

You hear two points in conversation after conversation, and presentation after presentation this week. So it’s not unexpected that Jason Samenow and his colleagues at Capital Weather Gang aimed unerringly at the two “unavoidables” in a pithy encapsulation of how proceedings have gone in this AMS Annual Meeting so far:
CWG’s Brian Jackson, on the vital need to keep satellite programs strong:

Our weather satellites do much more than provide the images that you see on your local news. They measure countless variables depicting atmospheric chemistry, aerosols, storm monitoring, and provide vitally important data to our weather models. The prominence of presentations regarding this data reveal just how necessary it is to keep our satellites flying and to continue to innovate new and improved sensors and instruments for the next generation of environmental satellites.

And his colleague Camden Walker, on the collaborations we’re building for the future:

With more data than ever thanks to the newest measurement technologies, and fewer disciplinary boundaries among social and physical sciences, we have unprecedented ability and bandwidth to create a unified voice that is respected, authoritative – to educate and engage the public en masse.

Maybe those were free throws, but CWG sank them both.

Suomi Now Smiles Down Upon Us

NASA and NOAA announced today at the AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans that they have renamed the recently launched polar orbiter, NPOESS preparatory project, the Suomi NPP, after the late Verner Suomi, who was one of the pioneers in creating instruments for satellite observations of the weather. AMS annually gives out a prestigious Verner Suomi Award for technological achievement–this year’s winner is Anne Thompson.
“Verner Suomi’s many scientific and engineering contributions were fundamental to our current ability to learn about Earth’s weather and climate from space,” says John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Suomi NPP not only will extend more than four decades of NASA satellite observations of our planet, it also will usher in a new era of climate-change discovery and weather forecasting.”
Suomi, who died in 1995 at the age of 79, spent nearly his entire career at Univ. of Wisconsin. He is legendary for developing the spin-scan camera, which allowed satellites in stationary orbit of one point on Earth to maintain continuous focus and enable, among other capabilities, the instant-replay-style weather images we watch on television.
In 1968 he won the AMS’s highest award, the Rossby Medal

for his imagination, ingenuity, and versatility in conceiving and designing diverse meteorological sensors which have helped to transform the satellite as a meteorological probe from a dream to a reality. His Spin-Scan camera has given us our most comprehensive views of the atmosphere as an entity, and has already led to revised ideas concerning the circulation in lower latitudes.

and in 1977, he received the National Medal of Science — one of many awards — though his son Eric Suomi expects his father would have been particularly appreciative of Suomi NPP’s mission and new name.
The University of Wisconsin gathered comments on the name change:

“I think this is an excellent match,” says Eric Suomi, an electrical engineer who lives in Madison. “Had my father still been around, he would have been pushing for more of the kind of instruments on this satellite and the observations they’ll be making of our planet.”
“Vern flew the first experiment to look at the Earth from space on Explorer 7,” says Hank Revercomb, a Suomi collaborator and director of UW-Madison’sSpace Science and Engineering Center, which Suomi helped establish in 1965. “That was a radiation budget experiment, and there is actually a similar experiment, an instrument called ‘CERES,’ on the spacecraft they’ve named for him.”
Suomi NPP will also add to long-term climate records, monitor the health of the ozone layer, measure global ice cover and air pollution levels, map vegetation and — with the help of a sounder, an instrument conceived by Suomi and refined by Revercomb — contribute to better weather forecasts with sharper data on cloud cover, wind, temperature and atmospheric moisture.
“This satellite is designed to study the atmosphere and improve our understanding of how and why changes make a difference in our weather and climate,” Univ of Wisconsin Professor Steve Ackerman says. “Those were Day One objectives of Verner’s from the 1950s.”


The Return of the Ozone Layer

It’s always nice to hear good news: The ozone layer is recovering, and by around 2032 the amount of ozone in the atmosphere should return to 1980 levels, according to the 2010 Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion. At last fall’s symposium on Stratospheric Ozone and Climate Change, co-sponsored by AMS, Paul Newman gave a talk about this progress–and what the world would have looked like had the landmark Montreal Protocol not been implemented in 1987.  Here’s his message, in a nutshell, courtesy of a NASA video:

(You can see Newman’s in-depth presentation on the Assessment from the Bjerknes Lecture at the AGU Fall Meeting as well).
Comprehensive data are available in the links, but a couple of highlights from Newman’s talk are that 1) amounts of chlorine and bromine in the lower atmosphere are in decline, and 2) if the Montreal Protocol had not been implemented in 1987, two-thirds of the ozone layer would be have disappeared by 2065, while the UV index would have tripled. Not only would this have led to a marked increase in occurrences of skin cancer and other health problems, but it also would have caused crop yields across the world to decline by up to 30%, potentially leading to food shortages.
The technology used in ozone research will be the topic of a number of presentations at the upcoming AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans. One device of particular interest is the Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS), a state-of-the-art instrument onboard the recently launched NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite.
Angela Li of NASA and colleagues will discuss the collection and evolution of OMPS data in a presentation titled “End-to-End Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS) Mission Data Modeling and Simulation” (Tuesday, 1:45 p.m., Room 343/344).
Glen Jaross of Science Systems and Applications, Inc. will lead an examination of the calibration of instruments like OMPS in the discussion, “Evolution of Calibration Requirements and Techniques for Total Ozone Mappers” (Tuesday, 8:30 a.m., Room 257).
Lawrence Flynn of NOAA/NESDIS will lead a talk (Monday, 5:00 p.m., Room 245) on recent advances in ozone sensors, with a focus on those that make solar Backscatter measurements in the Ultraviolet–a list that includes not only OMPS but also the EuMetSat Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME-2), the Chinese Meteorological Administration (CMA) Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Sounders (SBUS) and Total Ozone Units (TOU), and the NOAA Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet instruments (SBUV/2).
Early results from OMPS and other instruments on NPP will be the subject of a panel discussion (Monday, 12:15 p.m., Room 343/344) of NPP science team members and designers.

Science for Oysters…and Oysters for Scientists

One of the highlights of New Orleans is its distinctive, world-renowned cuisine. And indulging in that famous cuisine more often than not means enjoying the bounty of the Gulf of Mexico. AMS members will descend on New Orleans right at the high season for oysters, according to food critic Brett Anderson writing in the local paper, the Times-Picayune, right before Christmas:

Meteorologically speaking, it is an inconvenience that Louisiana oysters are never more delicious than they are right about now, just as we’re growing accustomed to the daily threat of something resembling winter. Wouldn’t it be nice if oysters were at their crispest in August instead, when they could provide cool relief from the blood-hot sun? Yes, that would be nice, but our reality is pretty sweet as well: oysters at their peak, tasting like clean ocean water, firm-fleshed and sitting pert on their shell. They’re perfectly sized, large enough to announce their presence, small enough to swallow whole. Get another dozen. It’s gift-giving season.

According to the reports from the restaurants, the local crop is back to the quality seen before the big BP Horizon oil spill of 2010. Prices and supplies have normalized.
So while you’re hunting for some Gulf oysters on the half-shell later this month at the AMS Annual Meeting, keep in mind that this delicacy is not only featured on your plates but, also, featured on scientific program. In particular, two presentations might ease concerns you have about subjecting your stomach to the raw variety (of food, not science, of course!). Gina Ylitalo (NOAA) and colleagues will present on “Oil Spills and Seafood Safety” (8:45 p.m., Tuesday, Room 333). They write

Thousands of seafood samples collected during reopening and surveillance in the Gulf, as well as those obtained dockside and in the marketplace have been analyzed using [advanced] analytical methods. While chemical compounds associated with the oil spill have been detected in seafood samples using these various analytical methods, none were present in edible tissues at levels that approached levels of concern for human consumers of seafood products from the Gulf.

Later in the same session on Tuesday, Jay Grimes (Univ. of Southern Mississippi) will talk about monitoring disease potential from raw seafood with satellite monitoring of ocean temperatures and salinity, in “Can You Really See Bacteria from Space?”.  Below is the latest bacteria estimate from their oceanographic monitoring website:

Space-based monitoring of a notorious bacteria in seafood that can cause illness in certain disease-prone diners. Right now threat levels are relatively low in the Gulf, which, presumably, means good times in New Orleans for oyster lovers.


iPhone Game Puts Satellite Data in Your Hands

The Los Angeles Times compares it to Tetris and calls it “the nerdiest game ever“. As far as we’re concerned, that’s a sure-fire journalistic badge of honor for Satellite Insight, the new iPhone game app from NASA and NOAA.
The object of the new game is to control real-time Earth and space weather data. Colored blocks falling into columns on a grid represent small pieces of data. To save lives and protect expensive instruments, the GOES-R weather satellite must not lose any data. Players bundle like data types together before the grid overflows. Data blocks fall slowly at first, but arrive faster as the game continues. Each speed-up also brings a power-up tool you can use at any time to help clear the grid. Keep it going as long as you can and try to beat your best time. Explains NASA’s web site:

No matter how thirsty you are, it’s not easy to drink from a fire hose. But that’s similar to the challenge of capturing and storing the huge blast of images and information that the new GOES-R weather satellite will gather.

And of course, as a NASA and NOAA product, the game has an educational mission too–the instructions include information about the upcoming real-life GOES-R satellite.
Satellite Insight is available free for iPhone and other iOS devices on iTunes. Check it out here.

Jack Townsend, Shepherd of Weather Satellite Technology

The passing of AMS Fellow John W. (“Jack”) Townsend on October 29 serves as a fitting moment to register the evolving national relationship with space technology over six decades.

“Jack Townsend was truly one of the seminal figures in the history of NASA, and certainly, in the history of Goddard,” said current Goddard Spaceflight Institute Director Rob Strain. “The story of the space program simply could not be written without a chapter devoted to him. He dedicated his life to the exploration of space and the study of our planet, and humankind is richer for the knowledge he helped generate.”

Townsend was one of the first employees at Goddard in 1959, where he directed the satellite applications efforts, at a time when the nation was racing to enter the Space Age. He had already cut his teeth on space technology, first in radar countermeasures aboard B-29 bombers in World War II and, by 1949, working with V-2 rockets. Townsend helped bring satellite meteorology to fruition in the 1960s as Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Science Services Administrator (predecessor to today’s NOAA). After a decade at Fairchild Industries, he returned to NASA after the Challenger disaster, and then for three years as Director of Goddard.

Townsend retold the story of the origins of weather satellites just a year ago in an interview with archivist/historian Doria Grimes:

[E]verything started with sounding rockets just after World War II. I went to work for the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) following my graduate degree in physics. The sounding rocket program had just started at NRL and it involved the Army, Navy, and Air Force…. Interestingly enough, at White Sands, New Mexico, we flew rockets out over the desert in the late 1940’s. We put cameras on them called gun sight aiming point cameras, “GSAPs”. The idea of the camera was that as the rocket went up and rotated, it took pictures of the earth in swaths. You would use those pictures to reconstruct the attitude of the rocket.

One day we had a shot in New Mexico in which we caught what looked like a storm in pictures off to the southeast. One of the guys who worked for me, Otto Berg, made a composite picture of nearly 1,000 tiny GSAP pictures, a total mosaic of a storm. It looked exactly like a hurricane, and attracted the Weather Bureau’s attention. It was in the early 50’s – all before Sputnik.

The pictures stirred interest from Harry Wexler at the Weather Bureau, and eventually a classified Army satellite project was moved into the new NASA, gradually became declassified, leading to the first weather satellite, TIROS. It was during this period that Townsend and other American science administrators were involved with negotiating peaceful uses of space technology with their Soviet counterparts.

The subject came up of transferring data. We, at that time, expected to launch the research meteorological satellites. They promised they were going to launch meteorological rockets and satellites. Incidentally, they never did. But they wanted the transferred data because Russian ground data was very sparse, and these data meant a lot to them as a country. With the free transfer of meteorological data and satellite pictures, we had an issue, a big issue. Who pays for the communication expenses between Washington and Moscow? We got into a big fight about that, and the agreement had been to share. The Russians said that since the U.S. owns all these communications facilities, the U.S. should pay for 90% of it. Then the Russians said that the ruble was not worth as much money as the dollar. Finally, I came up with one of the only brilliant ideas I ever came up with. I said sharing means 50/50. We’ll pay the bill for three months, and you pay it for three months….So I cut this deal with the Russians on how to pay for it. [His Russian negotiating counterpart] Blagonravov thought it was funny. He laughed, and said to me, “I am glad I am too old to send to Siberia.” He was a lieutenant general which is a five star rank in those days, and he also was a communist and believed in the system. He was a neat guy and I got to like him.

The whole interview (transcript here) has more on the origins of the space program, NOAA, and operationsl satellites. You’ll get the sense that the field was guided then by strong personalities and a country committed to technology. [For more on the early development of weather satellites, specifically TIROS, check out James Rodger Fleming’s presentation on “Transformative Technologies and International Cooperation in the Career of Harry Wexler” at the 2012 AMS Annual Meeting (11 a.m., Tuesday 24 January)].

About That New Satellite

With the the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite launched successfully yesterday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, satellite users will want to begin thinking about getting up to date on NPP at the AMS Annual Meeting. Here’s a quick link to the dozens of upcoming AMS Annual Meeting presentations related to the satellite and JPSS in general.
In particular consider attending the Tuesday (24 January,; 8:30 am) panel on “Expected Improvements from Satellite Technology on Operational Capabilities at the NWS, Navy, and Air Force.” The participants are the heads of those respective forecasting agencies–Jack Hayes, Fred Lewis, and James Pettigrew. AMS’s William Hooke moderates.
Also, on Monday (23 January at 11:45 am) Mitchell Goldberg et al. of the JPSS program will describe NPP and its place in the overall JPSS mission (the Joint Polar Orbiting Satellite System, is the civilian-side successor to NPOESS, which was the National Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite System). NPOESS was canceled in 2010.
Meanwhile, until we meet in New Orleans, here’s context about how the mission has evolved with the cancellation of the NPOESS. And here’s a NASA video describing NPP’s mission and capabilities:

Further, you’ll find a wealth of information about the NPP satellite and its genesis in the overall architecture of NPOESS, described in BAMS last year. The meeting program has more specifically about the five major instruments aboard, VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite; described here in BAMS), CriS (Cross-track infrared Sounder), ATMS (Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder), OMPS (Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite), and CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System; description in BAMS here).
We’ll undoubtedly post more about specific satellite-related sessions at the 2012 Annual Meeting in New Orleans as we approach January.

NPOESS Imager Delivered

This week, while the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System was a hot topic at the AMS Annual Meeting, Northrop Grumman delivered a critical NPOESS sensor, the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).
The VIIRS aboard NPOESS will provide highly detailed imagery of clouds, vegetation, snow cover, dust storms, and other environmental phenomena.
“The delivery of VIIRS enables us to move ahead on an advanced system consisting of spacecraft, sensors, and a ground segment that is already well underway,” said Dave Vandervoet, NPOESS program manager for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.  “This program made terrific progress last year, and the vast majority of the development risk is behind us now.  The sensor that was delivered will be integrated on to the NPOESS Preparatory Project spacecraft, which will be launched next year.”
Raytheon built the instrument under contract to NPOESS prime contractor, Northrop Grumman.
A second VIIRS flight unit scheduled for deployment on the first NPOESS spacecraft, known as C1, is progressing as well.
For samples of next-generation satellite imagery from NPOESS, check out the NexSat web page from Naval Research Labs in Monterey, which was described in the April 2006 issue of BAMS.

Image from NexSat.