Through the Atmosphere: Winter/Spring 2014

February 5, 2014 | Jean Phillips

A Note from CIMSS Director Steve Ackerman

Winter 2014 TtA cover

Cover of the Winter 2014 issue of Through the Atmosphere magazine

SSEC is a major success story because of the combined achievements of its individual scientists and their research programs. Together, we strategically and successfully undertake a broad spectrum of research, from individual single year grants to large international collaborations. Through the Atmosphere illustrates the diversity of our research, both intellectually and thematically: from outreach programs that teach the value of satellite observations to exploring the clouds of Saturn.

Planetary atmospheres are complex systems. We continually devise methods to represent these systems in computer and conceptual models using a variety of data sets. Some of you have heard me say that there are five As in data – access, assemblage, analysis, artistry and archive. SSEC leads the world in all five of these As in the field of satellite observations. We just celebrated the 40th anniversary of McIDAS – this visualization (e.g. artistry) and analysis system, along with the SSEC Data Center (archive and access), support the already strong arguments for our world leadership (assemblage and analysis) in satellite remote sensing.

Though located in the Midwest, CIMSS is home to a world renowned research group using satellite data to study tropical cyclones in order to improve hurricane intensity estimates and save lives. Some of their work has transitioned from the research lab to the routine activities of NOAA’s applied researchers and forecasters. The tropical cyclone program at CIMSS has excelled for more than 20 years.

Fire detection from satellite observations is another program that has a long history at SSEC and CIMSS – a program developed for long-term monitoring of fires and associated aerosols and their impact on global climate. A more recent, innovative research program is exploring rapid-onset of extreme drought conditions. The basic research undertaken in that study will eventually have direct implications for decision-making as droughts lead to crop failures and threaten livestock, wreaking environmental and economic damage.

These programs exemplify our ability to couple basic science with applied science. The last essay in this issue of Through the Atmosphere ties it all together, thoughtfully outlining the intrinsic value to society of basic research and its varied applications.

Perhaps there are six As in data, with application the final cornerstone, and another in which SSEC researchers excel.


Through the Atmosphere is a semiannual magazine featuring atmospheric, space science and engineering research and education accomplishments of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) and its Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS). The Winter/Spring 2014 issue is available online and in print.