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Snow, Ice and Satellite Images

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist
February 2000

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the News...

In Print

On the Net

Over the Air

In the Community

In the Wings

In the News The Schwerdtfeger Library is one of several University of Wisconsin–Madison campus libraries hosting exhibits about Wilson A. Bentley, a Vermont dairy farmer who first photographed snow crystals in the late 1800s. Campus news publications Wisconsin Week and Wisconsin Week Wire note the snowflake exhibits in an announcement of talks by award-winning author Jacqueline Briggs Martin, who wrote the children’s book Snowflake Bentley. The Schwerdtfeger Library is displaying prints of some of Bentley’s photomicrographs on the third floor of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences building where the library is located and whose residents it serves.

For more information, follow the links below.

Weatherwise magazine (January/February 2000) featured SSEC’s research and some of the people behind it in two major articles. In “Antarctica, A Land of Ice and Wind,” Jack Williams, weather editor of USA Today gives a detailed and realistic overview of life and work on the continent. He notes that without the Automatic Weather Stations of Chuck Stearns and his UW–Madison group, “no weather observations would be available across the 850 miles between McMurdo and the South Pole, which is the continent’s busiest air route.” After reading Jack’s article, one wonders how the stations are kept operational at all, given the harsh conditions. The article also covers the research Chuck and his group did with Susan Solomon on the weather that killed the 1912 Robert Falcon Scott expedition. Susan and Chuck found it was much colder than normal the summer that Scott journeyed to the South Pole. Chuck is a principal investigator at SSEC for Antarctic projects.

For more information, follow these links.

In “Sentinels in the Sky,” Jeff Rosenfeld celebrates the 40th anniversary of weather satellites with a brief history, complete with pictures. Among the many he used is an image of Hurricane Luis (1995) showing wind vectors, from the CIMSS’ Tropical Cyclones Web page. He also credits Verner Suomi, SSEC’s founding director, and his partner Robert Parent with the first meteorological instrument on a satellite that flew on Explorer VI in 1959. It measured “incoming solar radiation and departing heat radiation.” Jeff added, “without such radiation budget assessments, the huge recent advance of climate modeling likely would be impractical.” He also pays tribute to “Suomi’s legendary ability for simplicity” and describes the black and white ping-pong balls acting as sensors. He also notes that the spin-scan camera gave the “first frequent and hemispheric photos of weather.”

The new Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute in Orlando, Florida will use SSEC’s image of North and South America in publicity material for the institute. The image is a high resolution version of Dawn of the Millennium, being offered by SSEC on its Web page. Creator Rick Kohrs used a combination of GOES 8 and 10 imagery to show dawn breaking on the year 2000 over the western hemisphere. Hubbs-SeaWorld Florida, a nonprofit organization doing marine science in partnership with NASA, is a new sibling of one established in San Diego in 1967.

For more information, follow this link.

In Print

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SSEC’s participation in NASA’s GIFTS program was highlighted in Wisconsin Week’s Research column on January 19. SSEC was picked to be a key partner with NASA’s Langley Research Center and others in designing the Geostationary Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer (GIFTS). As stated in the article, GIFTS builds on SSEC’s 35 years of experience with weather satellite and spaceflight hardware technology. Hank Revercomb, SSEC’s director, explained that GIFTS will be able to dissect the atmosphere “in a far more detailed way than current geostationary satellites.” Scientists hope to greatly improve weather forecasting accuracy with GIFTS.


Destination Earth

NASA’s Science Writers’ Guide to Terra, recently released by the EOS Project Science Office, describes capabilities of the five scientific instruments on the new Terra satellite by including individual projects that will use their data. One of them is Paul Menzel’s study of “what causes cirrus clouds to form and how their ice crystals trap radiation” which will use data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. Don Wylie is a key scientist on this cirrus study. EOS lists only PIs in its project descriptions.

The November helicopter lift of SSEC’s 40-foot rooftop tower was highlighted in J.P. Cullen’s Pride Update employee newsletter for October–December 1999. The newsletter noted that a helicopter lifted the tower sections into place “because of the 220-foot height of the building, and the relatively tight space requirements of the project.” They used a picture showing Cullen employees finishing the tower on the roof. J.P. Cullen and Sons is the Janesville contractor who is erecting the tower and antenna on our building’s roof, preparing to receive data from Terra, the new NASA Earth science satellite.

A helicopter lifts a section of tower to the top of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science Building where workers wait to fit it into place.

Realtime GOES


The GOES Products and Services Catalog, published June 1999, lists CIMSS contributors Paul Menzel, Elaine Prins, Tim Schmit, Gary Wade and Fred Wu. Other CIMSS people contributed as project members. CIMSS products include the Automated Biomass Burning Algorithm, the GOES Sea Surface Temperature image, High Density Winds (from infrared and water vapor imagery), winds from GOES visible imagery and many others.

Blushing Moon

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel advertised an infrequent opportunity, a total lunar eclipse, on January 20. Sanjay Limaye, SSEC Outreach Coordinator, encouraged everyone to “go out and enjoy it. It should look beautiful.” He was right. The next lunar eclipse visible from North America won’t occur till May 2003.

Dee Wade and Jerry Robaidek, Data Center manager and supervisor, are credited in Surviving the Storm: Coastal and Offshore Tactics with providing historical satellite photos. Authors Steve and Linda Dashew include satellite imagery of some of the storms profiled in this book for sailors.

Physics Dept.

UW–Madison’s physics department is including SSEC in its new graduate brochure. Physics professor Mark Eriksson wanted to advertise SSEC’s resources because “SSEC is an important attraction for potential physics graduate students.”

The University of Tennessee’s Physics Department is producing (with Brooks/Cole Publishing) a Web-based astronomy textbook, Online Journey Through Astronomy. They’ve asked to use SSEC’s global montage and sea surface temperature images to “complement and enrich our discussion on Satellite Observations of Earth and Sea Surface Temperatures.”


SSEC is included in the International Satellite Directory, in its 15th year of publication with, they say, more than “20,000 active readers in 140 countries.” The 2000 directory will be printed early this year.

Editors of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change asked John Dutton of The Pennsylvania State University to write an entry for Verner Suomi, SSEC’s late founding director. The piece stresses Professor Suomi’s contributions to environmental science including the spin-scan camera which made possible a view of the earth from space. John Dutton is Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. John Wiley and Sons is publishing the encyclopedia.

On the Net

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SSEC newsmakers are featured in the Office of News and Public Affairs’ online column, UW–Madison Newsmakers, which lists media appearances, much as this column does. Sanjay Limaye was found quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for December 20. He and Jim Lattis, Space Place director, spoke about a particularly brilliant moon in December. Sanjay explained that “the Earth and moon are … at their closest point to the sun. That convergence, which hasn’t taken place in 133 years, will make the moon noticeably bigger and brighter.”

Noted in Newsmakers and in Wisconsin Week for January 19, Chuck Stearns is quoted in Science News for January 1 on Chuck’s group’s contributions to research on the Scott expedition. The men apparently faced uncommonly cold weather, even for Antarctica. Chuck said, “They were just absolutely freezing to death. I think if it had been warmer, they’d have made it back.” He and Susan Solomon confirmed that 1912 temperatures “stayed below -30 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a month, an exceedingly cold spell during the South Pole’s mildest season.”

SSEC’s In the News column has just been added as Newsmakers’ first (and thus far only) link under “More campus newsmaker sites.”

PUMAS-"Who Hits Harder..."

Don Wylie’s piece on ski jumping, “Who Hits Harder: The Nordic Skier or Aerial Jumper?,” is being used as a teaching example in PUMAS, Practical Uses of Math And Science, an online education program of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On their Web site, PUMAS provides examples, usually written by scientists and teachers, of how math and science affect our every day life. Granted, ski jumping is not as ordinary an activity as some of the examples presented, but Don does show how basic principals of physics were used to model flight trajectories of two forms of competitive ski jumping, Freestyle Aerialist and Nordic.

Over the Air

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Wisconsin Public Radio,


Weather Guys Steve Ackerman and Jon Martin appeared again on Larry Meiller’s WHA radio call-in show on Monday, December 27 and January 31. In December, the Guys fielded some complex questions about storms, winds, clouds and local weather (e.g., why is LaCrosse the warmest spot in the state, on average?) and one question about their eastern accents. Many questions in January focused on normal seasonal changes. The Weather Guys will appear indefinitely every last Monday in the month at 11:45 on WHA (Wisconsin Public Radio).

Wisconsin Radio Network reporter Jeff Wigton interviewed CIMSS researcher John Mecikalski on the question of the hour: why do we have so little snow? John’s meteorologically cogent response, relating the lack of snow to current drought conditions, was broadcast on the state radio stations which syndicate WRN’s pieces. Then, it snowed.

Rosalyn Pertzborn appeared on WORT-FM on the Thursday, February 3 science show devoted to “the space program.” Rose and Jim Lattis fielded some questions on university outreach programs.

In the Community

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Sanjay Limaye, planetary scientist and SSEC’s outreach coordinator, made good use of a trip to India in October to give many talks to local groups of school children, their parents, educators, and others. His talk on October 22 at Mumbai’s Nehru Planetarium was written up in the Times of India. This talk and many others he gave focused on exploring Mars.

In the Wings

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Watch for ads showcasing UW-Madison’s weather research beginning in March and April. Ads aimed at a general audience will appear in magazines like Milwaukee and Wisconsin Trails and other state-wide publications. The text specifically mentions the first space-based camera (Professor Suomi’s spin-scan camera) and predicting the paths of hurricanes. The ads are too short to mention organizations, but those of us who contributed to the research can pat ourselves on the back and tell anyone reading a magazine with such an ad, “I work there. I help with that.”

Direct comments, questions, and information about other SSEC media appearances to SSEC's Public Information Officer. For information about past media appearances, visit the SSEC In the News page.

2-4-2000 tg