Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS): CYGNSS Launch Weekend Continues: A Day of Science Communication

December 10th, 2016 by Mary Morris

You’re probably wondering why I’m down at NASA KSC so early before launch day. We’re not down here relaxing on the beach; the weekend before launch is packed with events. For example, just today, I participated in our CYGNSS Science Team meeting and two press events.

Earlier today, I kicked off our science team meeting by presenting the results from the last couple chapters of my dissertation.

Here I am, presenting my work at the CYGNSS science team meeting. Photo credit: EJ Olsen

Here I am, presenting my work at the CYGNSS science team meeting. Photo credit: EJ Olsen

The science team meeting is basically a mini symposium. It gives those involved with the project a chance to show their results, collaborate, and get feedback from others. An extended science team has grown from the original list of scientists and engineers that wrote the proposal. There are two main things that I have been pleasantly surprised by as I have worked on this project: 1) There are many institutions involved with CYGNSS, and 2) CYGNSS science applications are not limited to hurricane science.

Today, at the science team meeting, these two things were very apparent. NASA scientists are not the only ones interested in the success of CYGNSS. For example, a number of collaborators work at NOAA and the Naval Research Laboratory and these scientists are interested in figuring out how to use CYGNSS data to improve weather forecasts. Over the past few years, I have seen a number of presentations from CYGNSS team members from many different institutions that have shown that simulated CYGNSS data can positively impact the skill of weather models. It has been illuminating for me—someone who has never done any of this type of work—to see what types of experiments scientists choose to perform, and what questions they seek to answer. Many on the science team are excited about assimilating the on-orbit CYGNSS data for the first time during this upcoming year.

Another interesting aspect of CYGNSS that you may be surprised by is that CYGNSS data will have a wide range of applications outside of hurricane science. A number of scientists are looking into figuring out how to use CYGNSS data for other areas of interest: soil moisture, extratropical storms, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation are just a few out of many research topics that scientists are currently experimenting with now. The techniques used for CYGNSS are still relatively new, and it will be interesting to see how science applications develop after CYGNSS launches, with new on-orbit data.

There are always many things to learn at science team meetings. Here is a picture of the entire group that came down to Florida to participate in the science team meeting in person:

CYGNSS Science Team members get together to meet and discuss new findings, as well as prepare for the first year of science operations. Participants included: Nancy Baker, Charles Bussy-Virat, Matt Buchanan, Tim Butler, Kenny Carlsen, Juan Crespo, Maurizio di Bisceglie, Lilli Galdi, Jim Garrison, Joel Johnson, Stephen Katzberg, Mark Leidner, Xuanli Li, Sharan Majumdar, Darren McKague, Brian McNoldy, Mary Morris, Stephen Musko, Andrew O'Brien, Jeonghwan Park, Derek Posselt, Zhaoxia Pu, Aaron Ridley, Emily Riley, Chris Ruf, Kaitie Schoenfeldt, Bill Schreiner, Seubson Soisuvarn, Tianlin Wang, Xiaosu Xie, Valery Zavorotny (Some not pictured, as they participated remotely.) Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

CYGNSS Science Team members get together to meet and discuss new findings, as well as prepare for the first year of science operations. Participants included: Nancy Baker, Charles Bussy-Virat, Matt Buchanan, Tim Butler, Kenny Carlsen, Juan Crespo, Maurizio di Bisceglie, Lilli Galdi, Jim Garrison, Joel Johnson, Stephen Katzberg, Mark Leidner, Xuanli Li, Sharan Majumdar, Darren McKague, Brian McNoldy, Mary Morris, Stephen Musko, Andrew O’Brien, Jeonghwan Park, Derek Posselt, Zhaoxia Pu, Aaron Ridley, Emily Riley, Chris Ruf, Kaitie Schoenfeldt, Bill Schreiner, Seubson Soisuvarn, Tianlin Wang, Xiaosu Xie, Valery Zavorotny (Some not pictured, as they participated remotely.) Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

In addition to attending the science team meeting, I was asked to participate in press events today. It was fascinating to see what types of questions that the press and other audiences had during these events. My communication skills had to stretch across a large range of audiences today. I started off the day talking about my work to the science team in a more technical way, and ended the day talking to reporters and more general audiences. CYGNSS continues to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience for me.

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Behind the scenes from a Facebook live event: my research advisor (and CYGNSS PI), Prof. Chris Ruf, and I talk about what we’re excited to see from CYGNSS after launch, with the aircraft and rocket carrying CYGNSS into orbit in the background. Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

CYGNSS Science Press Brief, From left to right: Sean Potter, Chris Ruf, Aaron Ridley, and me (Mary Morris). Photo Credit: Frank Marsik

CYGNSS Science Press Brief, From left to right: Sean Potter, Chris Ruf, Aaron Ridley, and me (Mary Morris). Photo credit: Frank Marsik

Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS): CYGNSS Launch weekend is finally here!

December 9th, 2016 by Mary Morris

My name is Mary Morris and I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering department at the University of Michigan. My advisor, Prof. Chris Ruf, just so happens to be the principle investigator (PI) of the University of Michigan-led NASA Earth Venture class satellite mission, CYGNSS. CYGNSS consists of a constellation of eight satellites, scheduled to launch on December 12th. Soon! This mission will provide scientists with key hurricane ocean surface wind speed data, which we hypothesize will improve our understanding of how hurricanes form and develop. You can learn more about CYGNSS by reading earlier posts made by science team members on this blog section, or by going to nasa.gov/cygnss.

Since I have such a unique opportunity to be a CYGNSS science team member as a graduate student, I was asked to blog about my experiences in the days leading up to the launch. This has been a dream job for me and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you. In a few decades, if this blog still exists, I hope old-me will be able to look back at young-me and laugh at my wide-eyed, young scientist perspective recorded here for eternity.

So, why is working on the CYGNSS mission a dream graduate school gig? Well, I knew from a young-age that I wanted to study the weather, I just didn’t know the details of how to make a career out of my math and physics-based fascination of the atmosphere and Earth. Once I learned about remote sensing and satellite imagery, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to study more about remote sensing and eventually work on Earth science satellite missions. After a series of last minute applications to remote sensing-related research opportunities—applications that I thought were long shots—I ended up accepting Prof. Ruf’s research assistantship offer to join his remote sensing group as a Ph.D. student. The position turned out to be the graduate school jackpot: CYGNSS was selected for funding right as I started grad school. The timing could not have been better. I would get to see the inner workings of a satellite mission being developed throughout all of the design reviews and pre-launch data product development. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting ride. Since CYGNSS combines two of my passions—satellite observations and weather—it’s been a fun project to be a part of.

Graduate students are basically apprentices. If your ultimate goal is to be a scientist on Earth science satellite missions, being the graduate student working under a principal investigator of a NASA satellite mission is ideal. CYGNSS is my first satellite mission, but not my first hurricane-related research project. Here is a picture of me doing research as a part of the NASA HS3 mission (which, I also blogged about here!).

Here I am, downloading data from an aircraft instrument, HIRAD, after a science flight as a part of NASA's HS3 mission.

Here I am, downloading data from an aircraft instrument, HIRAD, after a science flight as a part of NASA’s HS3 mission.

I’m nearing the end of my graduate school career, and by working on both the HS3 and CYGNSS missions, I’ve gained a lot of great experience by working for and with the best engineers and scientists in our field. With the CYGNSS launch coinciding with the end of my graduate school journey, I can’t help but be a bit emotional at the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the weekend.

Go CYGNSS!

Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project 2016: Searching for Sea Ice: Back On Dry Land

October 25th, 2016 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Alek Petty

A mix of old and new sea ice floating through the northern Beaufort Sea during one of the last days of the cruise that we observed sea ice.

A mix of old and new sea ice floating through the northern Beaufort Sea during one of the last days of the cruise that we observed sea ice.

After 65 Rosette casts, 59 XCTD probes, 61 Bongo tows (nets that collect zooplankton samples), 212 surface water profiles, 40 ocean drifters released, three buoys deployed, one buoy recovered, three deep sea moorings collected and redeployed, eight ice cores collected, and 27 scientists deployed and partially recovered, our expedition around the Beaufort Gyre is finally over! The cruise was a huge success, with virtually all instruments operating successfully. The only downer was the lack of sea ice and our inability to get out onto the ice after Ice Station 1. The lack of ice wasn’t actually a problem for most of the scientists onboard, as they were more focused on measuring the state of the ocean, with the lack of sea ice providing interesting, albeit worrying, context for their measurements compared to previous years.

Final Joint Ocean Ice Study 2016 cruise map (Sept. 22-Oct. 18, 2016)". Courtesy of Chief Scientist Sarah Zimmermann.

Final Joint Ocean Ice Study 2016 cruise map (Sept. 22-Oct. 18, 2016)”. Courtesy of Chief Scientist Sarah Zimmermann.

As I said back in my first blog entry, one of the key objectives of the expedition was to produce an up-to-date assessment of the freshwater content of the Beaufort Gyre. Based on a preliminary analysis of the data collected on this cruise, my colleagues reckon the total freshwater content of the Gyre could be at a record high. A chemical analysis of the ocean surface suggests that sea ice melt contributed around 20 percent of the fresh water mixed up within the surface waters, compared to around 80 percent from Canadian and Russian rivers flowing into the Arctic. The sea ice contribution was thought to be neutral a few decades ago, but the ice is now melting more than it’s growing, as we clearly witnessed, causing an imbalance. The wind circulation is also important in driving the ocean circulation that sucks in fresher surface waters into the Gyre (see an earlier blog of mine for more details).

Why does this all matter? Well, some scientists posited that the Beaufort Gyre oscillates between periods of spinning up and sucking in freshwater, and spinning down and releasing fresh water. A kind of breathing, if you like. The Gyre has been spinning up and sucking in fresh water for a few decades now (2008 saw a big increase) and we keep waiting, with similarly bated breath, for this trend to reverse. If the Gyre does reverse (breathe out), the Arctic Ocean will likely dump a load of fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean (as we think it did in the 1970s), which could cause some big impacts on weather patterns across the Northern Hemisphere. We’re not expecting a scene out of The Day After Tomorrow, but we’re not entirely sure what could happen either.

Hacky sack on the helideck. You can spot me by the bright orange hat.

Hacky sack on the helideck. You can spot me by the bright orange hat.

It will take scientists a while to pour through all the data collected on this cruise and place this year’s findings into context. We spent our last few days compiling reports to summarize and document the data collected (in between games of hacky sack on the helideck). I’ve taken a look at some atmospheric data since I got back, and it appears the Beaufort Sea region was experiencing really warm, maybe even record warm, air temperatures throughout October. The data collected this year could therefore offer us a glimpse of what might be a new normal for the Beaufort Gyre and other regions across the Arctic Ocean.

I wasn’t able to cover all the science that happened on the ship during this blog series, but I hope you got a flavor for some of our primary scientific activities and have a better understanding of why it is we keep coming back to profile the Beaufort Gyre. I’m not sure if I will be out again next year, but I’ll be sure to let you know if I do. Thanks for reading, and do get in touch if you have any questions!

The Joint Ocean Ice Study  is a collaboration between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) researchers with colleagues in the USA from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The scientists from WHOI lead the Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project,  which maintains the Beaufort Gyre Observing System as part of the Arctic Observing Network. In addition to WHOI and DFO, the 2016 participants (those on board plus those on shore) come from three Japanese, five American, and six Canadian universities and research laboratories. Annual sampling of set oceanographic stations and mooring re-deployments since 2003 aboard the CCGS Louis S St-Laurent have built a time-series of physical and chemical properties of seawater, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and ice observations reaching from shelf waters to 79N across the Beaufort Sea. More information can be found on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

Salinity Processes in the Upper Ocean Regional Study (SPURS): R/V Revelle SPURS-2 Epilogue

October 21st, 2016 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Eric Lindstrom

Science party on the R/V Revelle.

Science party on the R/V Revelle.

Salinity Processes in the Upper-ocean Regional Study #2 is underway for the next year. Lots of science remains to be done, so it is very early to be writing an epilogue! However, the first big field campaign with a large research ship is completed and it seems right to sum up some of the operational conundrums be articulated as we plan for further operations with the Lady Amber over the coming year and the R/V Thomas Thompson in October 2017.

Conundrum#1: Finding “Just Right”

Like Goldilocks, the R/V Revelle team went in search of very special conditions. Conceptually, SPURS-2 is built around observing all the processes that lead to rainfall mixing into the ocean and the resulting large-scale variations of salinity that we detect from space.

One of the concepts is that rain falling into the ocean will reveal itself as low salinity “lenses” at the surface than mix into the ocean over time. Well, not unexpectedly, if the wind is anything but calm, the rain mixes quickly into the upper ocean mixed layer and cannot be seen as a lens – only tiny variations of salinity that build up over time. In order to see the strong signal of a lens of fresher water, one needs to observe the ocean during calm winds and rain. The difficulty with this is finding the simultaneous occurrence of rain and low wind conditions in a vast ocean with a platform with a top speed of about 12mph. During SPURS-2, it became apparent that the regions with more certain rainfall (those large cells and fronts visible from space) were also stormier and windier than ideal for measurement. In areas of calm winds, there are patches of rainfall but they don’t seem predictable (“It’s the tropics” says Jim Edson!)

So, the perfect observing condition for us were more difficult to find than we expected ahead of time. Probably no surprise that mother nature throws a great curve ball! In the end, we targeted the low-wind regime by following the surface wind forecasts and hoped to run into rain (which we did). After a few weeks at sea we learned and prevailed.

Conundrum#2: Risk

It is always tricky to balance risk and reward. Equipment deployed at sea is always at risk of loss. The reward for taking the risk is valuable data to expand our scientific understanding. We had several occasions to examine and balance these risks and rewards.

For example, the CODE drifter was an instrument that was modified ashore by addition of a salinity sensor but not tested prior to shipping five of them to R/V Revelle. In the parlance of oceanography, drifters float at the surface, while floats are neutrally buoyant and can sink and return to the surface to transmit profiles of the ocean. In a test deployment of one drifter, it appeared to stay at the surface (just), but when released from the ship it simply sank, never to be seen again! Not the behavior you like to see in a drifter! So, although modification to its four sister drifters were undertaken, it was eventually decided that these drifters were not ready for prime time. Lucky we tested one! The small experiment with CODE drifters will have to wait until next year.

The Lighter-Than-Air InfraRed System (LTAIRS) balloon deployments were quite complicated by variations in the balloon lift during rain and by variations in wind speed and direction. Dipping the balloon payload (expensive camera) in the water is a big risk. However, the data – infrared movies of the sea surface skin temperature in rain – are super interesting and scientifically novel. We learned a lot about making waterproof payloads, the best material and size of balloons, and weather characteristics unfavorable for ballooning. This knowledge was hard won with near misses and close calls and exhaustion of the helium supply. We all think it cost our chief scientist Andy Jessup some new gray hairs! However, the grin on his face when he shows you the data is priceless. Well worth the drama and risk in the process. LTAIRS work will go more smoothly next year on the R/V Thompson and the team will likely make some interesting discoveries about the thermal properties of the sea surface during rain.

Final Thoughts

It was a great pleasure to work with and support the scientists and crew on R/V Revelle. It is a capable ship and crew and the science party was very well prepared for the challenges and risks. Morale was high during the entire voyage – maintained by a busy schedule, everyone pitching in, and good food and fellowship. The teams from University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Connecticut, Woods Hole Oceanographic, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography came to R/V Revelle super-prepared and ready for action. The schooner, Lady Amber, will be making periodic voyages during the coming year to service and renew out drifting (Lagrangian) experiment. As always, your blogger enjoyed every minute of our six weeks at sea. Its wonderful to watch scientists and engineers face the challenges of understanding the ocean while in its grip. I’ll keep you posted on developments during the coming year!

Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project 2016: Searching for Sea Ice: The End of Ice

October 12th, 2016 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Alek Petty

View from a helicopter of our ice breaker, the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent, taken after Ice Station 1.

View from a helicopter of our ice breaker, the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent, taken after Ice Station 1.

The sea ice didn’t last long. We continued the hunt for sea ice suitable enough for another ice station – hoping for something thicker and more stable than last time around. Unfortunately our search was fruitless. The Woods Hole team tried for a quick installation of one of their ice tethered profilers (ITPs) –an ocean surface water profiler- on a thick ice floe that was only around 164 feet (50 meters) in diameter, but the ice was too ridged and porous to be suitable and the operation was quickly abandoned. They instead resorted to deploying two of their ITPs directly into the ocean from the side of the ship (this is less stable than wedging the surface buoy component of the profiler into an ice floe, hence why they’re called ice tethered profilers). Our hopes of getting out onto the ice again quickly vanished.

We were soon back to cruising through the marginal ice edge, which was dominated by newly forming young grey ice with the occasional floe of older, thicker, ice that had survived the summer melt season. We are now back to swaying our way through the high seas – not the kind of scene most people associate with an Arctic expedition. It was with a sense of deep regret that our time within the ice ended with nearly two weeks of the expedition still to go. For me, the expedition just isn’t the same without the sound of ice breaking reverberating around the ship (we’re on an ice breaker after all!)

Arctic sea ice extent as of Oct. 10, 2016.

Arctic sea ice extent as of Oct. 10, 2016.

We got a small dose of Internet after leaving the ice (I’m struggling to cope without it!) and I managed to get access to the National Snow and Ice Data Center website, which showed how the Arctic sea ice re-freeze has been really slow this year (see the sea ice extent image above), coinciding with very warm temperatures over much of the Arctic, including the Beaufort Sea. We’ve experienced temperatures only slightly below freezing on this expedition, so my thermals have stayed packed away. In the Beaufort Sea, the ice edge is clearly not heading south at any real speed, although as the temperatures are expected to drop further through the coming weeks and months, a refreeze across the entire Beaufort Sea should be inevitable.

Scientist Adam Monier looks out over Arctic sea ice.

Scientist Adam Monier looks out over Arctic sea ice.

Despite the lack of sea ice (and my associated despondence), the science was still operating at maximum speed. We had a talk from Adam Monier, a French microbiologist from Exeter University (United Kingdom) who talked about his efforts, along with collaborators from Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), to increase our understanding of the microbial communities of the Arctic Ocean. According to Adam, around 90 percent of the global ocean’s biomass is microbial (a mass equivalent to roughly 240 billion elephants!) and this was seriously underestimated as of only a few decades ago. He showed some fascinating results demonstrating how phytoplankton (a micro algae) can cope, and even adapt, to fast changing environmental conditions, like sunlight and access to nutrients – some of which can be linked to the changing Arctic sea ice state. There is still a severe shortage of Arctic data, and this cruise is trying to help fill in those gaps. As phytoplankton are the foundation of the Arctic Ocean’s food webs, understanding how they respond to rapid changes in environmental conditions will be key to understanding how the entire Arctic ecosystem responds to declining sea ice and changes in the Arctic Ocean. The expedition has been a great way for me to learn about the latest developments in Arctic science, and to appreciate how interconnected our various fields of research are.

Notes from the Field