Monthly News Summary – February 1998

February 20, 1998 | Abigail Mindock

Watching the Rain Forest Burn

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist

Watching the rain forest burn from space isn’t exactly run-of-the-mill middle-school curriculum. But that’s exactly what some lucky Madison middle-school students got to do during the most recent Space Shuttle mission.

As the Endeavour circled the Earth last month, seventh-graders used computers to control an onboard digital camera, aiming it at the Amazon Basin in order to investigate rain forest destruction.

Students at Spring Harbor and Velma Hamilton schools were participating in a nationwide outreach project called EarthKAM. This project encourages students to learn about the Earth using remote-sensing techniques as well as math, geography, and computer technology.

Madison students chose to investigate biomass burning, and targeted the fires in the Amazon rain forest as an area of obvious interest. CIMSS researchers Elaine Prins and Joleen Feltz helped students identify areas of rain forest burning; SSEC programmers Jerry Robaidek and Tommy Jasmin produced the global satellite mosaics and Java software used by the students to decide where to point the camera.


Madison students directed the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s EarthKAM camera to take pictures like this one showing the fork of the Uruguay River in South America. (Image courtesy NASA’s KidSat Image Viewer.)

The kids will compare the images collected from the Shuttle with visible and infrared satellite images. They’ll use this data to map the progression of burning in the Amazon region from 1988 to today and will publish their results on the World Wide Web.

Each of the 51 participating school districts chose a specialized area of research using the pictures collected from the Shuttle. Around the country, each Student Mission Operation Center (SMOC) sent picture requests to EarthKAM headquarters at the University of San Diego. These requests were transmitted to a laptop computer on the Endeavour that controlled the digital camera mounted in a window.

EarthKAM, an outgrowth of the KidSat program, is directed by Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Sanjay Limaye and Rose Pertzborn of SSEC’s Office of Space Science Education (OSSE) helped bring the project to Madison and act as advisors to the local SMOC.

Madison teachers plan to integrate the theme of biomass burning into the entire school curriculum, including math, geography, social studies and language arts. The project will culminate with a science symposium at the end of the school year. Spring Harbor teacher Jim Kotoski will continue to work with the OSSE and EarthKAM during the fall 1998 Shuttle mission and hopes to expand the biomass burning investigation to the African grasslands, Costa Rica, and Australia.

WISC-TV visited the Hamilton SMOC on the first day of EarthKAM, January 23. Ron Seely, of The Wisconsin State Journal, covered Spring Harbor’s EarthKAM participation. The Capital Times ran a short piece on January 26 listing the SMOC Web sites. TDS Telecom provided Internet access; the Evjue Foundation provided additional funding.

For more information, follow the links below.

Chasing Storms and Buoys

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SSEC Lidar Group


Scientists from around the Midwest converged on Lake Michigan during December and January trying to get a handle on the fleeting parcels of air that can cause winter storms. Researchers in the Lake-Induced Convection Experiment (Lake-ICE) brought a battery of methods and equipment to bear in an effort to improve current forecast models. Small-scale convection features, vertically moving columns of air, are so small and spring up so suddenly that they are hard to include in forecasts.

AOS Professor Greg Tripoli and SSEC’s Brad Hoggatt compared their regional forecast model with a national model. (Thanks to CIMSS scientists, the national model now includes moisture data from the GOES sounder instrument.)

SSEC’s Ed Eloranta, with a crew of AOS grad students and engineer Jim Hedrick, used his Volume Imaging Lidar instruments to capture three-dimensional views of very small-scale convection.

Larry Sromovsky and Jim Boyle deployed the Skin-layer Ocean Heat Flux Instrument (SOHFI), a sensor attached to a buoy that measures small variations in surface water temperature. While the lidar collected some good data, the SOHFI stopped sending measurements after about eight hours. In response to Sheboygan and Milwaukee papers’ gracious announcement of the loss, there was at least one reported sighting.

University News and Public Affairs, The Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press, and WBBM radio also covered the experiment.

On the Air

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Galileo Probe

BBC Sci/Tech

Chris Riley of the BBC interviewed Larry Sromovsky for an eight-part television series on the Galileo probe. This may mean more work for Andrew Collard, who’s back in his native England: Andrew may be asked to tape the BBC series.

Environmental News Network

Francis Bretherton appeared on WISC-TV’s Sunday evening news to talk about global change. It’s another example of the media making a local connection with the conference on global warming held in Kyoto, Japan.

SSEC Overview

Steve Ackerman and SSEC’s global montage starred in a 15-second vignette on WMTV’s evening news on December 26, a slow news day. An anchor announced that “the University specialized in three major areas of weather research.” The audience was told that climatological forecasting was one of them and was left to imagine the other two. The snippet, from a very long interview, gave the impression that the other two were using imagery from “satellites orbiting over the Pacific Ocean” and forecasting weather for cranberry growers!

Lunar Prospector

Bob Paulos appeared on WMTV’s 5:00 p.m. live interview show on January 5 to discuss the Lunar Prospector mission launched that week. Bob answered questions about the mission’s purpose of mapping the moon from lunar orbit.

In the Public Eye

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The American Meteorological Society’s annual award recipients included two SSEC luminaries: Don Johnson and Bill Smith.

Johnson, associate director of SSEC and director of CIMSS, received the Charles Franklin Brooks Award for Outstanding Service to the Society. The award pays tribute to Don’s “dedication as an editor and president, and for his leadership and innovation to improve education.

Smith is the first recipient of the Verner E. Suomi Award “for his outstanding contributions to the advancements in remote sensing from space and the application of these data.” Bill now directs the Atmospheric Sciences Division of NASA’s Langley Research Center. He formerly directed CIMSS and wants the award displayed in the Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences building at UW-Madison to honor the people who made it happen.

Division of Planetary Sciences

As organizer of the 1998 annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences, Sanjay Limaye is featured in a glossy color brochure advertising the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau. About 750 scientists are expected to attend the meeting in October.