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


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