SSEC Globe Logo Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC)

The Future Arrives

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist
December 1999

Also In
the News...

On the 'Net

In Print

Over the Air

In the Community



In the News Space News for December 20 announced NASA’s “New Earth Observation Mission.” This advanced sensor, it said, “could lead to dramatically improved forecasting capability by geostationary weather satellites. … The Geostationary Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer [GIFTS], designed by Langley Research Center, was selected as NASA’s New Millennium Program Earth Observing 3 mission. NASA will spend $105 million on the mission, including launch.” Space News did not mention that SSEC is a major player in GIFTS, along with Utah State University and others. NASA draws on SSEC’s 35 years of expertise in developing instruments for geostationary satellites. SSEC will receive about $10 million of the total $105 million budgeted for the project. About $1 million of that is devoted to the educational component, an ambitious program to be run by Sanjay Limaye and Rose Pertzborn at SSEC.

The news of SSEC involvement was released by UW–Madison and SSEC on Thursday, December 16. UniSci, a Web site specializing in University research science news, released the news Friday. It was posted shortly afterwards on Yahoo’s Astronomy and Space News page. Queries from or about any news release can be sent to SSEC's Public Information Officer for routing to appropriate GIFTS personnel. Many SSEC staff will be involved in the five-year project.

For more information, follow the links below.

Terra Data Awaited

SSEC took its first major step to receiving data from the Terra satellite, NASA’s first satellite in its Earth Observing System, launched December 18. On November 27, a helicopter lifted tower pieces that will hold up an antenna and the dome surrounding it. The antenna and dome will be put in place in late winter.

tower lift
A helicopter lifts a 20-foot section of tower into place on the roof of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences Building on November 27.
SSEC’s main interest in Terra is the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS. According to SSEC researcher Christopher Moeller, “The MODIS data, along with data from other sensors on Terra, will expand our view of the earth-atmosphere system by providing new and diverse global science products for a long-term record, giving new information on cloud prevalence, atmospheric water vapor and aerosol distribution, land and ocean surface characteristics and biological activity.” That’s a tall order for one instrument, but MODIS measures 36 spectral bands that are sensitive to many different atmospheric characteristics.

The Wisconsin State Journal announced the tower emplacement on November 26. All three of Madison’s commercial television stations covered the raising on Saturday morning. Wisconsin Week (December 8), both online and print versions, noted the tower’s raising.

Suomi was the second most popular name for the afternoon satellite to be launched as a partner to the first EOS satellite, Terra. While Agua won—water pairing with earth—Suomi would have been as appropriate. Verner Suomi was SSEC’s founding director who is also known as the father of weather satellites and of satellite meteorology.

For more information, follow these links.

The Future Is Fair

According to Peyton Smith of UW–Madison’s Chancellor’s office, 10,000 people attended Future Fair, an exhibition held in Monona Terrace Convention Center December 4–5. Those who staffed SSEC’s two booths would bet that nearly all 10,000 stopped by. SSEC’s booth for its Office of Space Science Education was constantly mobbed. Visitors were attracted by the 3-D Mars landscape poster and the ability to remotely maneuver a planetary rover built with Legos™. Even Dean Virginia Hinshaw of the Graduate School (SSEC’s administrative unit) stopped by and played with a rover.

John and Dean Hinshaw
John Ehringer, a Madison 7th grader who has made his own planetary vehicle, demonstrates the fine points of roving to UW–Madison Graduate School Dean Virginia Hinshaw.
A sizeable crowd also visited the booth next door devoted to SSEC projects. More than a dozen SSEC folks gave up parts of their weekend to set up and to give Vis-5D and McIDAS demos throughout both days and present other activities such as CIMSS’ experimental sea surface temperature products. Hundreds of Fair visitors entered drawings for giant inkjet GOES images of the earth. Just as many walked away with the Hot List of Science Web Sites. Most Fair-goers seemed delighted with what they saw and heard. Madison’s Capital Times newspaper said that the SSEC booths were among the favorites of the Fair’s 132 sites. SSEC was included in Future Fair ads, in a Downtown Madison insert to the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal on November 14, and in the Future Fair booklet with a four-paragraph informational ad.

Fred at Future Fair
SSEC research meteorologist Fred Wu explains satellite images to two of thousands of Future Fair visitors at Future Fair.
Wisconsin State Journal reporter Anita Clark covered Future Fair setup on December 3, interviewing SSEC researcher Matthew Lazzara, who showed her a movie loop of Wisconsin’s weather. She quoted Matthew as saying that “we will not have licked the forecast problem in the next century,” even though we can see it in five dimensions now. Vis5D, demonstrated at Future Fair primarily by Bob Aune, shows the weather in “animated time and particular variables.”

For more information, follow this link.

Mars Lander Sought

The Education booth was a good place to ask about the Mars Lander, expected to land on December 3. SSEC’s technical computing staff had the Internet working in nothing flat. Enterprising WMTV reporter Justin Williams followed planetary scientist and outreach coordinator Sanjay Limaye to Monona Terrace during Future Fair set up on Friday. On the evening news, Justin listed Mars Web sites and gave reactions from Sanjay, who stressed that the Internet made space exploration public, and Matt Mueller, a student worker in SSEC’s Technical Computing group, who said that Mars exploration was the biggest Internet event he could remember.

Madison’s WISC-TV also interviewed Sanjay, asking about the Mars lander, and John Ehringer, a student helper in the Education booth. John, the son of Linda Hedges, SSEC’s library assistant, had designed and built his own rover and demonstrated it throughout the weekend.

The Daily Cardinal, UW–Madison student newspaper, interviewed SSEC’s Bob Paulos, a spaceflight hardware manager, and Sanjay Limaye, for its weekend edition, before the landing was due. Both Sanjay and Bob explained parts of the mission. They both noted that finding water on Mars might mean that life once existed there.

WKOW-TV interviewed scientist Kevin Baines of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the 10 p.m. newscast on December 3. Kevin, visiting SSEC planetary scientist Larry Sromovsky, explained the mission and reminded viewers that the NASA Mars team at JPL was waiting for a signal from 157 million miles away.

By Tuesday December 7, hope of reaching the Lander had faded and media again sought reactions. WMTV’s Kelly Sackett interviewed Sanjay Limaye who said that even if the craft were lost, the mission was not a complete failure because scientists always learn from these missions. He said that perhaps we had been “lulled into a false sense of security that … it’s easy. … Space exploration is still a risky business.” He noted that with funding cuts, there is more pressure to perform well, creating a difficult situation. WMTV stressed the negative aspects of the Lander’s loss but noted that Wisconsin congressman James Sensenbrenner was reserving comment till more was known about the Lander’s loss.

On its 10 p.m. newscast, WISC-TV3 called the Mars Lander “an expensive memory” and said it had caused frustration for UW–Madison space scientists. Planetary scientist Sanjay Limaye stressed that we must learn to be patient and that we would be successful in the future.

Ron Seely, Wisconsin State Journal science writer, was more realistic than other media representatives. In his weekly column (December 9) he said, “Failure in scientific experimentation is to be expected.” He quoted Sanjay Limaye: “If you went to any lab, there are failures all the time. … [T]his is how progress is made, by learning. And you don’t learn by success, you learn by mistakes.”

For more information, follow this link.

Warm Weather Brings Concern

WTMJ, Milwaukee’s Channel 4 interviewed Francis Bretherton (Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science and SSEC) for a two-part feature story on climate change broadcast October 28 and 29. The crew also interviewed Jonathon Foley (Inst. for Environmental Studies). Both Francis and Jon teach global change at UW–Madison.

For more information, follow these links.

Kathy Strabala answered questions about our extended summer-like weather for Capital Times reporter Pat Schneider for an article on November 9. Kathy said that “the storm systems are riding up in Canada.” That doesn’t mean winter will be warm. “More likely,” as stated in the article, “the cold weather will merely shift a bit.” Kathy also said we couldn’t conclude that the extended warm weather is related to global warming.

By November 24, the stretch of warm weather was close to breaking records. WMTV’s Mike West talked with Tom Achtor, who proposed a combination of natural seasonal variations and anthropogenic forcing as causes.

Ice Makes News

A paper by Susan Solomon of NOAA’s Aeronomy Laboratory in Boulder, CO and SSEC’s Chuck Stearns was published in the November 9 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper, “On the role of the weather in the deaths of R. F. Scott and his companions,” tells how weather affected the disastrous journey of Robert Scott and his men from the South Pole in 1912. Chuck Stearns, whose automated weather stations provided data for the paper, fielded queries from a dozen or so media outlets. In USA Today, the authors are quoted saying, “Scott … died near the 29th of the month after enduring what might be dubbed the coldest March.”

For more information, follow this link.

Rob Holmes was featured on the Dan Burns Show, a call-in show on 1670 AM, WTDY (Madison, WI) on November 29. Rob called from Antarctica where he is servicing Automatic Weather Stations, a program that provides data to polar scientists around the world.

For more information, follow this link.

New York-based Science World, a national classroom magazine for high school students, contacted Matthew Lazzara for a piece on Antarctica and glaciers. Matthew, who runs the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center, pointed him to the data-rich Web site. Chuck Stearns is principal investigator of SSEC’s Antarctic projects.

For more information, follow this link.

Doppler on Wheels Visits

University of Oklahoma’s Joshua Wurman brought his customized doppler van to UW–Madison in mid-November as a teaching experience for students in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. SSEC’s AERI and Lidar teams collaborated in impromptu weather studies. Josh, technician Steve McDonald, Greg Tripoli (AOS) and graduate student Shane Mayor met many media representatives on a gray chilly Monday morning in front of Bascom Hill. WMTV (Madison’s Channel 15) featured the van in newscasts on November 15 and 16. WISC (Ch.3) sent reporter Cheryl Schubert to interview Steve McDonald, who drove the van from Oklahoma, for the 6 a.m. news on November 16. Madison’s Capital Times and campus newspapers also covered the event.

For more information, follow these links.

McIDAS Tower Decommissioned

Steve Arnett, NOAA manager in the World Weather Building, reported that the last McIDAS tower workstation was retired on September 30th. Tower workstations were the original McIDAS workstation types installed in the VAS Data Utilization Center (VDUC) in 1987, to process data from the then new sounding instrument on the geostationary satellite, GOES. The Tower lasted longer than WideWord workstations, which arrived later. This last tower workstation served as the Interactive Flash Flood Analyzer in support of the national Flash Flood Plan.

For more information, follow these links.

On the Net

For More Information

UW–Madison Newsmakers

UW–Madison’s News and Public Affairs online Newsmakers column noted a small portion of this season’s media coverage garnered by CIMSS’ Tropical Cyclones group. Specifically they mentioned’s posting on September 14. In it, researcher Tim Olander explained the intense interest in Hurricane Floyd, which ranked as one of the biggest recent storms. “It’s about four times as large as Andrew was,” Tim said.


Kris Kimmons, a dispatcher for Continental Airlines, used a GOES Gallery case in a training class to demonstrate the “potential of near real-time recognition of areas of probable turbulence using satellite imagery.” The case, Turbulence Off the California Coast, occurred on May 21, 1998, during a Continental flight. Kris credited CIMSS and added, “you guys deserve a whole bunch of credit for this site since its one of the very few sources where a layman can learn something about satellite [data] interpretation.”

Global Volcanism

Guagua Pichincha Eruption

The Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Network asked to use GOES Gallery images of volcano Guagua Pichincha in their Bulletin. The GOES images of the Ecuadorian volcano which erupted on October 7, 1999 were made into a satellite product that compares differences in the emissivity of silicate particles within the ash plume at two infrared wavelengths.


Michael Frodl, editor of the online journal, Failsafe, has used the global montage in its masthead since June 1999. He still likes it: “I am always awed by the beauty of your composite imagery, every time it downloads it’s still as exciting as the first time. We are really proud to be able to showcase it through our journal.” Failsafe is published by the Forum for Environmental Law, Science, Engineering and Finance™.

In Print

For More Information

Weather & Climate

Jessica Bushnell of the Daily Cardinal, a UW–Madison student newspaper, shadowed Steve Ackerman one day in his professorial and scientific duties. Steve directs SSEC’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies and teaches in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Jessica painted a personal portrait of this “popular professor.” Student comments in the piece include: “He’s super-enthusiastic. … It’s fun telling friends what [the weather] is going to be like for the football game.” “He jokes around a lot. He keeps us on our toes.” Jessica revealed the less visible side of Steve’s work in a sidebar, detailing research realities. Steve told Jessica that he spends about 50 percent of his time on research, much of it at night, because teaching-related activities take up much of the day. About teaching, Steve said, “It’s a great job. I wouldn’t do it if I didn't like it.”

Hurricane Brett imagery

Nature magazine used SSEC’s 3-color composite image of Hurricane Brett (by Jerry Robaidek) on the cover of its October 14 issue. It accompanied an article by Kerry Emanuel presenting his “simple model for thermodynamic control of hurricane intensity.”


Neptune, as pictured by Larry Sromovsky and Pat Fry, is included in Jovian Planets, a colorful picture of the planets viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Similarities and differences of the Gas Giant planets are discussed on the reverse side.

SSEC Composite Images

Professor Francisco Wong-Diaz is using the SSEC global montage as the cover image for his book, American Politics in a Changing World. Although slightly altered, the image will be credited to SSEC in future printings. He said, “The montage appears in the front and back of the text. … Everyone who has seen the book really admires the montage.”

Polish Scientific Publishers are including the SSEC global montage in their new Great Encyclopedia PWN.

Mentoring Program

What SSEC astrophysicist is seen in the Academic Staff Mentoring Program’s brochure? None of the photos have names attached, but the mentor on the back page is surely Wilt Sanders. The program matches seasoned academic staff mentors with newly hired academic staff.

Over the Air

For More Information


Wisconsin Public Radio, Web

Weather Guys Steve Ackerman (CIMSS Director) and Jonathan Martin (professor, AOS) seem to have a regular gig—Larry Meiller’s WHA Radio call-in show has featured them since August on the last Monday of every month. On the October 25 show, a caller commended CIMSS’ Tropical Cyclones group on its Web site, saying it was a superb service during hurricanes. Questions about hurricanes dominated this show, but the questions range widely. The Weather Guys can be heard, not only in Wisconsin on WHA Radio, but on the Web in real time.
Antarctic Projects

The End of the Earth

Under Antarctica

The Antarctic Meteorological Research Center provided much video and data to Natural History New Zealand for a two-part series on Antarctica. Just a very brief piece of video showing an automatic weather station was used in the first part, “Katabatic,” all about the fierce winds blowing almost constantly on the icy continent. The programs ran on the PBS Nature series in October.

In the Community

For More Information

Antennas in Lights

Since 1994, SSEC has festooned its large rooftop dish antennas with holiday lights as a gift to the community. UW–Madison photojournalist Jeff Miller said he’d “always wanted to do some kind of photo of this annual happening.” Shortly after SSEC’s antenna crew lit them for the first time this year, Jeff ventured to the roof and captured them for print and online versions of the campus newspaper, Wisconsin Week. The photos were published December 8. Since then, SSEC antenna workers have added a red and white W to the MODIS antenna tower, to be lit in Rose Bowl years.

Football Badgers Triumph

Speaking of things on the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences building, UW’s alumni magazine On Wisconsin noted the Dayne-o-meter that a few enterprising SSEC staff put up with their own funds. The giant numbers tracked how many yards Badger football star Ron Dayne needed to break the record of yards run during a college career. National television showed the Dayne-o-meter often during the last UW football game of 1999. Even Graduate School Dean Virginia Hinshaw said she liked it.

Janean Hill was featured in the News-Sickle-Arrow, a Wisconsin regional newspaper, for her work with Project Linus. The volunteer organization gathers and provides security blankets to children suffering serious illness or other personal trauma. Janean is a volunteer coordinator for communities around Mazomanie.


For More Information



GOES Burning

NOAA employees in SSEC’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies received Bronze Medals for their work this year. Acting NOAA team leader Elaine Prins graciously stated, “All of these activities are really joint ASPT/CIMSS/SSEC efforts. Congratulations to everyone who participated in these projects.” Listed below are NOAA employees at SSEC only. Web links will list SSEC employees engaged in the projects.

For work on the Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training (COMET) for work with the National Weather Service and NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory for providing demonstrations in training through the COMET and VISIT programs: Bob Aune, Paul Menzel, Robert Rabin, Timothy Schmit, Gary Wade.

Brazilian Fires for response to requests from Brazil for real-time and post-season assessments of fire activitiy in Brazil during the El Niņo fire episodes: Elaine Prins.

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.

12-21-99 tg