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Extremes of Earth and Space

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Coordinator
February 2001

Also In
the News...

Earth's End

Space Extremes

Weather Research

On the Net


In Print


This column includes news received through February 5.

Observing Earth with MODIS

In the News SeaSpace Corporation, who provided the antenna that enables SSEC to receive MODIS data, uses an image acquired at SSEC on their 2001 calendar. The nearly true color image shows the southeastern U.S. coastal region. SeaSpace TeraScan software integrated with SSEC’s IMAPP software was used to produce the image. The IMAPP team at SSEC includes Tom Rink, Liam Gumley, Allen Huang, Jun Li, and Zhongdong Yang. IMAPP, the International MODIS/AIRS Processing Package, allows researchers everywhere to make use of direct broadcast MODIS data received from NASA’s Terra satellite. MODIS, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, is one of several instruments on Terra specialized to cover Earth’s atmosphere, land, and ocean.

In “Terra Cognita,” the Smithsonian’s Air and Space magazine (March 2001) showcases imagery from the latest earth-imaging satellites. Naturally, MODIS is among them, showing the versatility of instruments on NASA’s earth-observing Terra satellite. Liam Gumley’s vivid image of multilevel clouds clearly shows the range of cloud heights and types. A large part of SSEC’s role on the MODIS science team is to develop software that aids in studying cloud properties and trends. As noted, “information on clouds is vital to understanding global climate change.”

Another colorful MODIS image depicting snow over the northeastern U.S. was used on NASA’s Earth Observatory Web site. By combining and comparing the different channels (wavelengths) of MODIS, one can distinguish easily between snow and cloud cover, particularly if different colors are applied. In this image, acquired on January 2, 2001, snow cover is red, and clouds are white. Pinkish clouds contain ice crystals.

MODIS image of snow
Clicking on the small image gives more detail.

At the End of the Earth

For More Information Overview





Ernie Mastroianni’s Antarctic series in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel began on January 9. Researcher Jonathan Thom noted that the reporter provided a third pair of hands as they loaded Automatic Weather Station equipment onto the flight to McMurdo Station from Christchurch, New Zealand. Mastroianni shadowed researchers and others from Wisconsin and filed several stories on their life and work. Antarctica weather pioneer Chuck Stearns’ AWS group was featured prominently. Mastroianni also wrote about their plans to place equipment on iceberg B-15A to monitor its movements. Charles Bentley, principal investigator of SSEC’s new Ice Coring and Drilling Services, was featured, mentioning that the ICDS is located at SSEC. Bentley noted the accuracy of the series. An article was devoted to Francis Halzen’s (Dept. of Physics) AMANDA project with an explanation of IceCube, a much-expanded neutrino project. AMANDA is administered by SSEC. A photo of a scientific instrument lowered into a hole for AMANDA was provided by SSEC’s Bruce Koci.
A.Sun Final

The Antarctic Sun ran famous iceberg B-15A at the top of its last issue of the season. The online publication publishes only during Antarctica’s summer and closes down in the colder months. They note, “Researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin traveled by the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea and helicopters to the middle of B-15A, where they installed weather and GPS instruments.” That would be UW–Madison’s Jonathan Thom and engineer Rob Flint, who placed automatic weather stations to track weather conditions on the berg in its travels.

Space Extremes

For More Information Black Hole


Two NASA orbiting astronomical observatories have found evidence of black holes. According to NASA, both “the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory have independently provided what could be the best direct evidence yet for the existence of an event horizon, the defining feature of a black hole.” Chandra’s scientists used X-ray data to show that “black hole candidates emitted only one percent as much energy as neutron stars.” Hubble Space Telescope researchers used data from the High Speed Photometer to “sample light at the rate of 100,000 measurements per second, during June, July and August of 1992.” The HSP “observed pulses of ultraviolet light from clumps of hot gas fade and then disappear as they swirled around a massive, compact object called Cygnus XR-1.” The pulses disappeared when they hit the surface, indicating the presence of an event horizon. The HSP was developed by UW–Madison’s Space Astronomy Lab and SSEC as a scientific instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. It was removed in 1993 to make room for corrective optics for the telescope’s flawed mirror.

Weather Research

For More Information


Jeff Key (a NOAA employee stationed at SSEC) and his team have revised and delivered the cloud detection algorithm used in the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) Polar Pathfinder (APP) project to the University of Colorado. The APP data set is comprised of more than two decades of information on cloud amount, surface temperature, surface albedo, and sea ice motion in both polar regions. Part of the data set is being reprocessed and will include results from the improved cloud detection procedure.


CIMSS and NOAA scientists are conducting a GOES experiment in conjunction with a Pacific Ocean weather experiment in January and February. The GOES rapid scan WINDs EXperiment (GWINDEX) will produce wind measurements from GOES-10 “rapid-scan” imagery; that is, a set of three images roughly 7 minutes apart, each hour around the clock covering the eastern North Pacific and U.S. west coast region. In rapid-scan mode, scientists can focus on severe weather developing over a smaller section of the earth, in this case, parts of the eastern Pacific Ocean, where weather systems develop rapidly and affect the coastal U.S. This data will help support the PACific JETs experiment (PACJET), which is aimed at observing and understanding heavy rain events along the U.S. west coast. Satellite-derived wind measurements like these have been shown to be effective in aiding forecasting for past weather experiments over this region.

Besides supporting the field experiment with real-time displays, and to garner forecaster feedback, CIMSS scientists will conduct a post-experiment analysis of the vector quantities and their accuracy, as well as analyze the measurements’ impact on forecast models. According to Chris Velden, CIMSS project originator, “We hope to demonstrate success through positive forecaster feedback and improved numerical model predictions, upon which NESDIS will recommend further action in regards to future GOES routine scanning strategies.”

Viejas fire

A large wildfire was ignited in the early morning of January 3 near the Viejas Indian Reservation east of San Diego. Strong Santa Ana winds fueled the fire and it quickly covered 5,000 acres, eventually exceeding 10,000 acres. Using the GOES Wildfire Automated Biomass Burning Algorithm (ABBA), Elaine Prins (NOAA) and Chris Schmidt (SSEC’s CIMSS) identified numerous fire pixels within minutes of the start of the blaze in both GOES-8 and GOES-10 imagery. Within a half hour of the fire’s start, the algorithm identified the Viejas fire as a saturated fire pixel.

GOES image of Viejas fire
In GOES-10, the GOES Wildfire ABBA computes fire pixels indicating an intense fire at 12:30 UTC (about 4:30 a.m. local time).

Scott Bachmeier (CIMSS) presents the Viejas fire and smoke transport on the GOES Gallery Web site observed with GOES, radar, and digital camera. The Gallery also shows the aerosol transport analyses produced by the Air Resources Laboratory’s HYbrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model and the U.S. Navy’s Aerosol Analysis and Prediction System (NAAPS).

Results obtained by Joleen Feltz (CIMSS) and Elaine Prins (using the GOES ABBA) were included in an interdisciplinary poster presented at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco in December. “Dynamics of Amazonian Fires” by M. Cardosa, G. Hurtt, B. Moore (Complex Systems Research Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham), C. Nobre (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, Brazil) and E. Prins focused on building a fire model for Amazonia by relating GOES ABBA fire results to explanatory factors such as precipitation and human activities.

On the Net

For More Information MetLink

MetLink, an education project of the United Kingdom’s Met Office and The Royal Meteorological Society, uses SSEC’s global montage on its Web site as a clickable map of schools around the world. On MetLink, you click on a spot and find a school’s Web site or weather camera. SSEC is also represented in a list of satellite data sources. The montage is also being considered by the UK education department for a booklet showcasing innovative ways of using technology in teaching.

UIR January

Design work of engineer Scott Ellington is featured in a piece distributed by University Industry Relations. John White, UW–Madison anatomy professor, teamed with Ellington “to build a new state-of-the-art laser-scanning device that can track chemical reactions occurring deep within living cells.” UIR reporter Dedee Wardle explains how “the researchers are creating a new spectral imaging detector that can reveal the physiological state of cells such as concentrations of specific ions or membrane potential.” The project is funded in part by a Robert Draper Technology Innovation Fund, managed by UIR.

Ando Track

The forecasting group on ReUnion Island almost exclusively relied upon the Tropical Cyclones group’s Web site to follow the progress of 120 kt Tropical Cyclone ANDO in early January.


Our tropical cyclone research is noted in Today in the Word for Thursday, January 11. Word is published by the Moody Bible Institute, a Christian college in Chicago. The research reference starts a column on the power of God, in reference to nature. Their description of our research is a good example of making science generally intelligible.


For More Information This year’s UW-Madison short promotional video aired during the Sun Bowl (Badgers vs. UCLA), featuring university highlights, including “professor” Chris Velden, an academic staff scientist (not faculty) who leads the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones group.




On Larry Meiller’s WHA Radio call-in show on January 29, Weather Guys Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin brought arguably good news to Wisconsin listeners—the late winter and early spring might be warmer than usual. They fielded with their usual aplomb numerous and varied questions. Martin explained black ice—at least for the Pacific Northwest, it comes about from dew or other moisture that freezes. Other topics included volcanic activity during El Niño (no relationship), past and present periods of global warming, effects of record snowfall on Lake Michigan depth (not enough to bring it up to normal), snow and frost depth (funeral directors know), underwater volcanoes’ effect on atmospheric change, alarmist tendencies of weather forecasters (no national standard exists for major events because they change regionally). No matter where you live, you can listen to the Weather Guys over the Internet on the last Monday of every month at 11:45 central time.

Science writer Aries Keck interviewed Matthew Lazzara for Our Ocean World, a syndicated radio program out of Cambridge, MA. Keck covered iceberg B-15 and what happened to it after it broke free from the Ross Ice Shelf in March.


Earthwatch radio features the difficulties inherent in weather forecasting in its January 25 issue. According to Bob Aune (NOAA researcher stationed at SSEC), numerical models upon which weather forecasts are based are only as accurate as the initial measurements used in them. In the feature, Bob explains how inaccuracies creep into measurements.

In Print

For More Information



BIT 7 is a Madison engineering design firm who has aided SSEC in mechanical design for a variety of one-of-a-kind spaceflight hardware projects. BIT 7’s latest project with SSEC, and that mentioned in the Wisconsin State Journal for Sunday, January 28, is the Adiabatic Demagnetization Refrigerator that keeps space-based detectors at temperatures close to absolute zero. BIT 7 and Bjorksten Research Laboratories have merged to provide “one-stop shopping” for design expertise and state-of-the-art testing facilities.

Snow Crystals

Libraries, a magazine published by Friends of the UW–Madison Libraries, featured the Schwerdtfeger Library in its winter 2000-2001 issue. In an article on grants the Friends have given in the past 4 years, the library’s collection of lantern slides of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley’s original photomicrographs are featured. Librarian Jean Phillips explained that the grant will help conserve the slides and fund creation of a searchable database. The ice crystal collection is being used for research into ice structure.



The NSF Antarctic Press Clips book is just what its name says—media reports for 2000 and covers all U.S. media reports that the NSF media office has been able to collect. The book is 375 pages long. About 35 pages are devoted to SSEC’s Antarctic projects, mostly the AMRC’s monitoring of B-15 and other icebergs calved from the Ross Ice Shelf starting in March.

The Sun, daily paper of Gainsville, FL, covered Antarctica’s icebergs, B-15 and its offspring.

The Middle Connection, Lodi Middle School’s parents’ newsletter, featured visits by two meteorologists. Gary Cannalte of Madison’s TV channel 3 and SSEC’s Matthew Lazzara visited in December. Lazzara presented SSEC’s Antarctic research. Seventh graders were impressed that Lazzara monitored icebergs on satellite images. They were probably more impressed that Cannalte forecast a low pressure system that brought the first snow day of the year.

Sanjay Limaye and UW–Madison astronomers are quoted in a Daily Cardinal article about discovering planets outside our solar system. Limaye, a planetary scientist, notes that “the new SALT telescope being built in South Africa will have the light-gathering capability and the instrumentation capable of detecting such objects.” The Daily Cardinal is one of two student-run newspapers on campus.

A Hurricane Mitch image produced by the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones group appeared in A National Priority: Building Resilience to Natural Hazards, a short brochure produced by UCAR and the AMS to raise political awareness of current issues in weather and climate research.

Honors and Meetings

For More Information Atmospheric scientists held their annual meeting in Albuquerque, NM in mid-January on “Climate Variability, the Oceans, and Societal Impacts.” SSEC researchers both presented formal talks in their areas of expertise and displayed their work in the exhibit hall to more than 2,000 scientists and experts attending the meeting, the largest annual gathering of meteorologists in the world. Alburquerque’s KOAT-TV interviewed Wayne Feltz and Matthew Lazzara at the SSEC booth for Sunday’s news. Lazzara talked about SSEC’s Antarctic projects, and why it is worth studying polar weather. SSEC’s iceberg animation, AERI temperature and moisture retrievals with wind profiler data in VisAD, interactive Java applets were all shown in the Electronic Theater, provided by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. NCAR’s Don Middleton said of the iceberg animation, “This really caught a number of people’s attention, especially the amount of fresh water.”

The University Roundtable spring lecture series features CIMSS director Steve Ackerman focusing on his group’s research, on May 14. Ackerman follows university notables, System President Katherine Lyall (February 19) and new UW–Madison Chancellor John Wiley (April 12).


At the meeting banquet, the American Meteorological Society presented its annual awards. Noted in the Awards 2001 booklet was the Banner I. Miller Award, presented to Christopher Velden, Timothy Olander and Steve Wanzong, all with SSEC, and Raymond Zehr of CIRA. The award recognized “two outstanding contributions on satellite techniques that address tropical cyclone intensity and track prediction problems.” The papers were published in the Monthly Weather Review and in Weather and Forecasting. The award has been called the “Heisman [trophy] of tropical meteorology.”

Artes Liberales Today, periodic publication of UW–Madison’s College of Letters and Science, published new AAAS Fellows in the Fall 2000 issue. Francis Bretherton and Donald Johnson, SSEC scientists, were recognized for careers in teaching, research and public service.

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

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