Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Piers Sellers

“When I was a kid, I watched the space race unfold. It was the most exciting thing I could imagine and NASA looked to me to be like the top of a holy mountain. After a lifetime of exploring different parts of that mountain, I still feel the same way.  It doesn't get better than this.“

Video will not be posted.

**Note there was no December 2012 Maniac Lecture**

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Angel Hair, Ice Cream Castles, Dripping Faucets & Euler Fractals

Dr. Robert Cahalan presented a Maniac Talk on October 24, 2012 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Dr. Robert Cahalan gave an interesting and stimulating talk entitled ‘Angel Hair, Ice Cream Castles, Dripping Faucets & Euler Fractals’. He combined anecdotes from his life and career with insights into the world around us from symmetry, fractals, and chaotic systems. This began with a look at the mathematics of rotations, topology, and prime numbers, with demonstrations including a hexaflexagon.

The mathematics then became a background for Bob’s experiences growing up in the middle part of the previous century, including being forced to do arithmetic by nuns at Catholic school as punishment for bad behavior, and through his career as a scientist, moving from the world of particle physics (heavily entwined with symmetry) through to the work on radiation and climate he is known for here at GSFC. We learned about the common themes which have underlined many aspects of this work. The talk renewed our sense of wonder and amazement at the beautiful complexity of nature and mathematics. -- summary by Andrew Sayer

Advancing the Forecast Enterprise

Dr. Louis W. Uccellini presented a Maniac Talk on September 12, 2012 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Abstract:Over the past 20 years, the entire weather enterprise has made revolutionary advances in the prediction of weather.  Remarkably, even greater progress has been made in the prediction of extreme weather events out to 7 days in advance (in some cases).  In this presentation, Dr. Louis W. Uccellini, Director of the National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, will review the advancements that have been made in the prediction of extreme events.  He will then trace the revolutionary transformation of forecasting from a subjective “art” in the 1940’s to the applied physical science that it is today.  Today’s forecast process is based on 1) an integrated global observing system, 2) numerical weather prediction models and 3) the world’s fastest computers.  He will also describe how climate, weather and water predictions arebeing linked to decision makers, including the emergency management and water resource communities.  The linkage of these developments to an improved “Research to Operations” (R2O) transition process will be highlighted in this presentation including some recent developments in accelerating the use of satellite data in advanced numerical models involving the Goddard Space Flight Center.  The talk will conclude with a discussion of what is (and is not) working as this larger climate, weather, and water enterprise is attempting to improve the R2O process and accelerating the transition of research, observations and technology advancements into operations.

Friday, September 7, 2012

From Math to Civil Rights to Sea Ice to Geoengineering to an Attempt at a Balanced Perspective on Climate Change

Dr. Claire Parkinson presented a Maniac Talk on August 22, 2012 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Abstract: In recent years, climate change has become a topic of heated discussion, and sea ice has been one of the components of climate receiving considerable attention. This was not at all the situation in the 1970s, when Claire Parkinson got into sea ice studies. Claire will share some of the sea-ice science she has been involved in at Goddard over the past 34 years, as well as key moments on her route to becoming a NASA scientist and key factors influencing her perspective on climate change and the discussion of climate change. These factors include an early passion for mathematics, a keen interest in the history of science, a career in sea ice studies, and concerns about geoengineering.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Modeling Atmospheric Aerosols: Opportunities, Excitements, and Danger

Dr. Mian Chin presented Maniac Talk on July 25, 2012 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

A physical scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Dr. Mian Chin is the lead of several projects involving global modeling of tropospheric aerosols and chemistry. In the series of Maniac Talks we’ve had so far, Mian’s talk provides an important linkage between the observations and modeling world. So far we’ve had 9 talks and they focused on the use of satellite and in-situ observations for earth sciences. Mian and her colleagues have developed the global GOCART model (Goddard Chemistry Aerosol Radiation and Transport), which has been used to simulate tropospheric aerosols and related gas species. The GOCART model is suitable for linking satellite and in-situ or satellite-based observations.

In her talk, Mian shared her personal experiences in this field and discussed recent progresses, issues, and perspectives. She did a wonderful job of charting out the development in the modeling of global aerosols that began about 20 years ago. For someone who is not an expert in aerosol modeling, the historical background was a perfect course on when things started, who were the key researchers, what were the key results, what followed from this initial work and where the field is now – including the key groups currently working on various aspects of aerosol modeling. Mian mentioned that now there are many global models in the world developed with various complexities and capabilities. She presented important results and contributions from her group and collaborators in terms of modeling dust, black carbon, organic carbon and sea salt using GOCART model. Comparisons of model results against satellite observations were also presented. Mian’s talk illustrated the wide range of applications of global models, including assessing aerosol climate forcing and impacts on the past, present, and future, forecasting near-real time air quality, supporting field experiments, and analyzing observations from a variety of platforms.

--Summary & Picture by Falguni Patadia

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Satellites, Seabirds and Seals: A thirty year retrospective of Ocean Color from Space

Dr. Gene Carl Feldman Presenting Maniac Talk on June 27, 2012 at NASA Goddard

Passion, persistence, diligence, teamwork, and service were the integral parts of our speaker’s Maniac talk today. Gene Carl Feldman; an oceanographer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center did an incredible job of delivering both enthusiasm and the nitty-gritty of his successful science career. Embedded in his Maniac talk, were interesting and important take home messages for young scientists.  His early career work experience (prior to 1985) as a Peace Corps Volunteer and his innate fascination for the ocean encouraged him to pursue his doctoral education in coastal oceanography. Similar to our previous speakers, we get the message about the wonders one’s passion and self-motivation can do. During his doctoral education, his diligence and continued determination to study why certain parts of the ocean were more productive than others came in full circle with the successful realization of the production, archival and distribution of global satellite-derived ocean color datasets, first observed by the Nimbus-7 Coastal Zone Colour Scanner and now through a series of ocean color instruments such as SeaWiFS, MODIS and VIIRS and their use helping us to better understand the ocean's biological response to a changing environment.

At the present time, access to such satellite data is fairly easy: raw imagery and associated data products may be freely browsed, ordered and downloaded from the internet. When he was doing his PhD research in the early 1980's using the Coastal Zone Colour Scanner (CZCS), however, such was not the case. Due to the limited resources both of the spacecraft and available on the ground, recording data over a specific geographical areas had to be scheduled, and only a fraction of this data was then processed to create the geophysical products from which the science could be done. Further, scene identification was a labor-intensive process. Gene described trawling through filing cabinets of black-and-white renditions of the satellite images, manually identifying the Galapagos Islands (which he was studying), and then submitting these scenes of interest from further processing. These efforts motivated him and others to make access to data a simpler task for future researchers, resulting ultimately in the excellent systems we have in place today (pioneered through the SeaWiFS mission), so that what originally took Gene years to sort through can now be found in moments.

Availability of global ocean color data from satellites opened the gates for Gene to pursue his scientific curiosity in studying global oceans and its productivity. At this juncture in his career he had 2 choices: (1) satisfy his own scientific appetite or (2) look at the bigger picture and hopefully, make an even more significant contribution by making these kind of data sets available to the broader scientific community in the most efficient way possible. Paraphrasing that famous philosopher (and New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra) he said, he stood at the fork in the road, and he took it! This gives us the message that at certain points in a scientists’ career they could forego their personal science goals and choose to benefit the larger community from their experience and service. After all, one finger cannot do as much as the five fingers put together! Now that you know, if you will, look out for that fork!

Just like our previous speakers, Gene came across as a very eloquent speaker and highlighted several important things in a scientist’s career. This talk had an unique aspect of encouraging you to sit back and look at the broader picture, think outside the box and realize how your science can be put to work.

-- Summary and picture by Falguni Patadia & Andrew Sayer

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Ice Sheets Hate

Dr. Robert Bindschadler Presenting Maniac Talk on May 21, 2012 at NASA Goddard 

While we were ready to go on an expedition to discover "what ice sheets hate?", we realized that not only an expert on ice sheets but also a "sherlock homes" was leading the expedition! So, the journey began with much enthusiasm and included an element of suspense in it! Dr. Robert Bindschadler, like other maniac talk speakers, reiterated that science was fun and that passion could lead to great discoveries that have a potential to better life on Earth. Bob is an Emeritus Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In his ~30 years of career, he has led ~17 expeditions to the Antarctica and has been a part of several other expeditions around the world.

Bob emphasized how direct observations have helped in understanding the melting of sea ice and its impact on climate. He brought to light that the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are shrinking faster and faster, increasing the rate of sea level rise.  Observations of this accelerating ice loss have surprised the experts and confounded the predictive models that policy makers might rely on to take action. He said that “the distant future is easy to forecast—less ice on Earth—one million years of paleoclimate data say so, but more detail is needed” He suggests that there is no substitute to direct observations, which is crucial to improve our understanding. Calls for more field studies!

The climax of the talk i.e. “what ice sheets hate?” turned out to be a big surprise when we learnt that they hate water – yes ice hates water in this case! A very simple concept unfolded: the water in the crevices of the ice sheets drives the crevices deeper and basically causes them to crack further. With the help of the audience, Bob constructed a unique working model that demonstrated this concept. This was perhaps the first chance for many of us to be a working model in the scientific world!

Bob summarized that the ice sheets will continue to shrink in our warming climate and sea level rise will likely accelerate. This has significant impact on human populations. The current “best estimate is one meter higher sea level by 2100! So, in Bob’s words “while scientists have “fun” doing science, we also appreciate the seriousness of climate change and the importance of accurate projections and that we have to help advise decision makers.” -- Falguni

Friday, May 4, 2012

Stratospheric Ozone: How we came to understand its chemistry and response to perturbations

Richard Stolarski (Emeritus Scientist, NASA/GSFC) gave a historic account of ozone research in the past century and how its continued understanding led to avoiding one of the biggest global climate-health risks in today’s world. Yes, indeed, we are talking about the “Ozone Hole”. Richard started off by reviewing early research by pioneers such as Sydney Chapman who was the first to show the underpinnings of the chemistry of ozone formation in the stratosphere. This important discovery enthused the scientific community to further understand the regeneration and removal of ozone via fast chemical reactions and also led to first measurements of ozone in the ultraviolet. Around this time, in the early 1970s, Richard got involved in a NASA project to study the possible environmental effects of space shuttle operations, which was one of the earliest works hinting on the destruction of ozone by humans. Also, during this time, long-term ground-based measurements in the remote Antarctic showed first signs of what we now know as the Ozone Hole. Stolarski’s research, in the 1980s, using NASA’s spaceborne measurements from TOMS and SBUV instruments confirmed the widespread thinning of stratospheric ozone. The physical basis of depletion of ozone by CFCs, provided by Molina-Rowland and Crutzen, led to the most successful global treaty till date, a.k.a. Montreal Protocol, of phasing out usage of CFCs and thus avoiding serious future implications. This was an exciting time for ozone and climate change research, and Stolarski’s contribution was of critical importance -- Summary by Ritesh Gautam

Monday, April 2, 2012

Four Decades of Ozone Measurement from Space

Maniac Talk by P.K. Bhartia -- March 28, 2012

A "story teller" is what I would call our Maniac talk speaker Dr P. K. Bhartia. Dr. Bhartia has been involved with the remote sensing of ozone for many years. In this exciting series of Maniac talks, Dr Bhartia's talk was yet another rare and complete story of its own kind. Woven together meticulously, he presented the history, science, and technicality behind satellite-based retrievals of total column ozone amount from the past 45 years. 

He began by introducing early ground-based measurements by Dobson based on the sun-photometry technique. Next he moved on to the theoretical work of Dave and others in the 1960s, which established the possibility of ozone remote sensing from space and introduced concepts such as Lambert-equivalent reflectivity, which are still in use today for applications not envisioned when they were created. From there he discussed the Total Ozone Monitoring Spectrometer (TOMS), which has flown on several satellites, and related instruments.

The last section of his talk concerned the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole by Joe Farman and colleagues in the early 1980s, and the story of its confirmation and monitoring with the TOMS data, including the trials and tribulations which happened while trying to confirm whether or not this unexpected (at the time) phenomenon was real.

Dr. Bhartia offered a chance, probably the first for many in audience, to look through the lenses of a retrieval expert on how NASA both did and did not discover the famous Antarctic "Ozone Hole" from its satellite observations. It turns out that Dr Bhartia and his colleagues did see very low ozone values from the TOMS instrument in summer of 1984 when they processed the data from October 1983 (due to available computer power at the time, there was a considerable lag between data acquisition and processing). The data was quickly scrutinized and instrument, algorithm and satellite errors were ruled out. For the lack of agreement between ground based S. Pole data and the satellite observations, and the lack of a priori ozone profile for low ozone concentration (below 225 DU), the satellite algorithm flagged out the low Ozone retrievals!  In August of 1985, Dr Bhartia presented these results at the Symposium on Dynamics and Remote Sensing of the Middle Atmosphere held in Prague. However, the results were not published as they were thought to be a meteorological anomaly of some sort. This story behind the story of Ozone hole was a unique peek into a very interesting regional phenomenon that was discovered, recognized, and mitigated to avoid a global impact. The speaker, Dr Bhartia, very conscientiously made his point on how important it is for us to learn the lessons from history, and insure our future with regards to climate change!
by Falguni & Andy --- Edited by Pawan

Friday, February 24, 2012

From Single Scattering Albedo to Radiative Smoothing; Having Fun with Radiative Transfer by Alexander Marshak

Sasha in action
Walking out of the seminar room I was filled with enthusiasm and an urge to walk right back to my desk and write up 5 pages of my research - It was like rediscovering my love and passion for the science I do. Such was the effect of Alexander Marshak's maniac talk! A talk that got the audience thinking and excited about science. A talk that aptly represented what maniac talk is all about! A talk that covered the entire spectrum of the theory, equations, observations and experimentation behind estimating SSA for clouds from measurement at one wavelength and extrapolating it to other wavelengths - a piece of science that has unmatched importance in remote sensing of cloud drops and in studying its effects on earth's radiation budget and climate. Sasha is a pioneer in the field of radiative transfer. He is a physical research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In his maniac talk, he not only presented the results of his research but also demonstrated it to the audience in the form of simple experiments. He brought with him cups and milk and a laser pointer and mesmerized the audience by showing a very simple demonstration of no scattering, single scattering and multiple scattering of laser light in clear water, water made turbid by one drop of milk, and a more turbid medium with couple of drops of milk, respectively. He then exemplified what happens to photons traveling within clouds of varying thickness by using milk of different densities (2% vs. half-&-half etc.). This was a talk that will be remembered by many in the audience not only for the scientific passion of the speaker (Sasha) but also for its scientific content - very few will forget what multiple light scattering in a cloud like medium looks like, what is the governing equation to estimate the spot size of scattered and transmitted light in a cloud and what it depends on. Sasha's talk reminded us that there needs to be a mania for the science we do in order to love it and bring a closure by achieving meaningful application of our research work/science. 
(February 28, 2012, summary and pictures by Falguni Patadia)
if this is too much to believe …… check out the pictures from Sasha’s talk!
Queue outside seminar room -- forced the seminar to be moved into a bigger room
Setting up in the bigger room
and fun with equations started again
Last item of the show -- demonstration of light scattering in clouds 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Studying Earth Vegetation using Remote Sensing

Compton J. Tucker (Jim) has been involved in the remote sensing of vegetation properties since the 1970s, and has been an important figure in making the field what it is today. He gave an interesting and illuminating talk about the course of his career, starting with his background in biology and early field experiments, and later involvement with satellite data through the AVHRRs and onwards. He was able to offer his historical perspective on developments in vegetation remote sensing, including the importance of field experiments as a `ground truth' for determining relationships between physical and remotely-sensed quantities, and the opportunities his career has offered. Jim provided some highlights of work done by himself and others, including important results concerning the increase in green biomass of the Arctic Circle as observed by multi-decadal satellite data. He also answered questions concerning climate change and the Arctic, and hopes and challenges ahead for vegetation remote sensing. (summary by Andy)