Drought is a natural part of the climate cycle, but as Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm due to climate change, droughts are becoming more frequent, severe and pervasive. Ranchers throughout the U.S. are using data from NASA and others to care for their herds and the land during drought conditions.
The American Geophysical Union published Advances in Satellite Data for Wildfire Smoke Forecasting in their EOS publication. The article highlights the use of GOES-16 data “to provide customized smoke modeling products for large wildfire events,” (over 8,000 hectares). However the article acknowledges that, “Modeling smaller fires requires higher spatial resolution data, such as those from the polar-orbiting satellites [Terra and Aqua], which provide snapshot data two to four times per day.”
The Principal Investigator for the Measurements Of Pollution In the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument on-board Terra, James R. Drummond, was awarded the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Insitut Alouette Award. The Alouette Award is awarded in recognition of outstanding contributions to the advancement of Canadian space technology, application, science, or engineering. Read the entire press release from CASI.
CASI Aloutte Award Press Release
Jim Drummond has been the Principal Investigator for a spectacularly successful Canadian satellite instrument for three decades, and also has made many invaluable contributions to Canada’s space program over the course of his long and distinguished career. These contributions, combined with his impassioned and tireless leadership in the satellite community, both nationally and internationally, have provided a body of research and accomplishments that make him an outstanding recipient of this prestigious award.
Jim is best-known in the space community for his leadership of the Canadian-led space instrument MOPITT (Measurement Of Pollution In The Troposphere) from conception to launch to celebrating its 20th anniversary on orbit. MOPITT was launched on NASA’s Terra satellite on December 18, 1999 and since then has made more than 1.3 billion measurements, resulting in over 470 publications. MOPITT measures carbon monoxide, and is notable for producing the first continuous global tropospheric chemical measurements from satellite and for mapping the global transport of pollution. MOPITT is a Canadian instrument; conceived, designed and constructed in Canada.
Jim began his scientific career at the University of Oxford where he completed his D.Phil. and a Post-Doctoral Fellowship, joining the Physics Department at the University of Toronto in 1979. Jim was the first person to thoroughly develop the concept of the length-modulated radiometer, recognizing the advantages that it offered over pressure-modulated radiometers. Jim and his students developed both balloon-borne and ground-based instruments based on these principles. In the late 1980s, he conceived the original concept for a nadir-viewing satellite instrument capable of measuring tropospheric constituents, including the acquisition of some vertical information using a combination of pressure-modulated cells to probe the upper troposphere and length-modulated cells for the lower troposphere.
Jim’s dedication culminated in the successful launch of the MOPITT instrument in 1999. Twenty years post-launch, Jim continues to be the Principal Investigator for MOPITT, leading an international team of Co-Investigators, including colleagues from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, which is responsible for the retrievals.
MOPITT is the first satellite instrument to make long-term global measurements of tropospheric pollutants, focusing on carbon monoxide. It is an eight-channel scanning radiometer that measures upwelling thermal emission and reflected solar radiation from the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. As PI, Jim maintained an active participation in every aspect of the MOPITT instrument design, testing, and characterization, taking a hands-on approach. As one colleague remarked at an international meeting some years ago, after hearing Jim give a talk on the MOPITT instrument, “it’s impressive how well he knows every detail of that instrument inside-out”.
Jim and the Terra satellite team received the 2019 William T. Pecora Team Award from NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The citation notes that “Terra is arguably one of the most successful Earth-sensing satellites ever deployed.” The citation also says that MOPITT was the first instrument “designed to observe the distribution and transport of tropospheric carbon monoxide and, along with other sensors, has helped advance our understanding of air quality and biomass burning emissions.”
Jim is a highly active contributor in the national and international scientific community including service on multiple high-level committees. Of particular relevance to space, he is currently a member of the federal government’s Space Advisory Board and a Member of CSA’s Atmospheric Science Advisory Committee. He was the founding President of the Canadian Network of Northern Research Operators (CNNRO), which was established to advance the collective interests of Canada’s northern research infrastructure operators. From 2014 to 2018, he was the Chair of the Forum of Arctic Research Operators (FARO), which has 20 member nations and aims to facilitate and optimise logistics and operational support for scientific research in the Arctic. Other international roles include Member of the Steering Committee for Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change, Member and Secretary of the International Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution, and Canadian Representative to the International Association for Meteorology and Atmospheric Science.
MOPITT measurements continue to be widely used around the world, meeting a great desire for global tropospheric measurements. MOPITT produced the first long-term global maps of carbon monoxide, including movies that clearly show the transport of the products of pollution and biomass burning plumes around the world. Without Jim’s dedication, commitment, and outstanding grasp of experimental issues, MOPITT would not be the success that it is.
On Aug. 26, 2020, Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite passed over the River and Carmel fires in Monterey County, California, got a bird’s eye view of the vast fire burn area.
This false-color map shows the burn area as dark blue and gray, in the center of the image. Vegetation is in red, including agricultural crops along the Salinas River (bright red rectangles) surrounding the towns of Soledad and Gonzales; bare areas with no vegetation and rock are shown in tan and brown. The city of Salinas is in the upper left of the image, obscured by thick clouds.
ASTER obtains high-resolution (15-90 square meters, or 161-969 square feet, per pixel) images of the Earth in 14 wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from visible to thermal infrared light. Data from ASTER — which is managed by Japan Space Systems and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California — are used by scientists to create detailed maps of land surface temperature, how much infrared energy the land emits, how much light the land reflects and its elevation.
On this occasion, ASTER was able to support NASA’s Disaster Program response to the state’s wildfires, providing data products that can be used by resources on the ground to fight the fires and for scientists to better understand their long-term effects. The area covered here is 21.4 by 31 miles (34.4 by 49.9 kilometers).
NASA’s Terra satellite passed over the Gulf of Mexico early on Aug. 25 and found a very small area of convection from post-tropical cyclone Marco, northeast of its center. All watches and warnings have been dropped as the storm continues to weaken toward dissipation.
Visible imagery and surface observations indicated that Marco made landfall around 7 p.m. EDT on Aug. 24 near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The center continued to move west and moved offshore and south of Louisiana by Aug. 25.
NASA’s Terra Satellite Reveals Effects of Wind Shear
NASA’s Terra satellite uses infrared light to analyze the strength of storms by providing temperature information about the system’s clouds. The strongest thunderstorms that reach high into the atmosphere have the coldest cloud top temperatures.
On Aug. 25 at 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 UTC), the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Terra satellite observed Marco in infrared light and found a small area of storms where cloud top temperatures as cold as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 45.5 Celsius) over the western Florida Panhandle and coastal Alabama. Those storms were being pushed northeast of Marco’s center from southwesterly wind shear. Satellite imagery also shows the low-level circulation center was a swirl of clouds south of Louisiana, over the Gulf of Mexico.
In the Aug. 25, Marco discussion at 5 a.m. EDT, NHC Senior Hurricane Specialist Stacy Stewart noted, “Marco has been devoid of any significant convection for at least 12 hours. [NOAA’s Advanced Scatterometer] ASCAT scatterometer surface wind data around 0239Z (10:39 p.m. EDT on Aug. 24) suggested that Marco might have degenerated in a north-to-south elongated trough (elongated area of low pressure). Based on this information, Marco has been downgraded to post-tropical remnant low [pressure area].”
About Wind Shear
The shape of a tropical cyclone provides forecasters with an idea of its organization and strength. When outside winds batter a storm, it can change the storm’s shape and push much of the associated clouds and rain to one side of it. That is what wind shear does.
In general, wind shear is a measure of how the speed and direction of winds change with altitude. Tropical cyclones are like rotating cylinders of winds. Each level needs to be stacked on top each other vertically in order for the storm to maintain strength or intensify. Wind shear occurs when winds at different levels of the atmosphere push against the rotating cylinder of winds, weakening the rotation by pushing it apart at different levels.
Marco’s Final Status
At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 UTC) on Aug. 25, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported the center of Post-Tropical Cyclone Marco was located near latitude 28.8 degrees north and longitude 91.2 degrees west. That is about 60 miles (100 km) south of Morgan City, La. and 110 miles (175 km) south-southeast of Lafayette, La. The post-tropical cyclone was moving toward the west near 10 mph (17 kph), and this general motion is expected to continue for the next day or so. Maximum sustained winds were near 30 mph (45 kph) with higher gusts. The estimated minimum central pressure was 1008.
Marco Nears its End
Brisk southwesterly vertical wind shear of 30 knots is forecast to increase to near 35 knots in 24 hours, which should prevent the redevelopment of deep convection near the center. On the forecast track, Marco should continue moving westward just offshore the coast of Louisiana until the system dissipates.
NASA Researches Tropical Cyclones
Hurricanes/tropical cyclones are the most powerful weather events on Earth. NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration contributes to essential services provided to the American people by other federal agencies, such as hurricane weather forecasting.
For more than five decades, NASA has used the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA brings together technology, science, and unique global Earth observations to provide societal benefits and strengthen our nation. Advancing knowledge of our home planet contributes directly to America’s leadership in space and scientific exploration.