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Earth Science Week 2012
Earth Science Week Blog
Let it Snow
Gail Jackson finds the immense beauty in her work
October 18, 2012
posted by
6:24 PST
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Falling snow in front of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center sign
A falling snow event in front of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center main entrance. Credit: Gail Skofronick Jackson

Have you ever looked at a piece of art or listened to music and been filled with wonder that such a thing existed? When I look at all the different snowflake shapes, I find their beauty is awe-inspiring. But I am also amazed by what scientists are capable of: our satellites can help predict floods, droughts, and landslides; help with agriculture; determine if a cyclone might be intensifying; and be used to improve weather and climate change forecasting.

Gail Jackson
As an Earth Scientist at NASA, I use NASA satellites with instruments looking down toward Earth to help understand the role of precipitation, specifically falling snow, in the global hydrology and energy cycles. I am the Deputy Project Scientist of a NASA mission called Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM). This satellite will be launched in 2014 and will be able to unify multi-satellite measurements into 3-hour global estimates of rain and to be able to detect falling snow.

To be able to do such great things for human society with a satellite science mission makes me feel that I am helping all of us. It is incredibly important for us to understand the hydrology and energy cycles of the earth and the work that my colleagues and I are doing can help increase our knowledge.

Dr. Gail Jackson. Credit: NASA.

I chanced upon this career. I grew up in Florida because my father was a Physics Professor at Florida State University. When I went to college, I decided to study Computer Science instead of physics. But about halfway through my coursework with Computer Science, I realized that I really didn’t want to sit in front of a computer for the rest of my career. I switched to become an Electrical Engineering major and enjoyed it.

One day I saw a picture of a hurricane taken from a satellite and I knew, I just knew, that I had found exactly what I wanted to do: remote sensing of the Earth. I eventually ended up at Georgia Institute of Technology to work on a doctoral degree in remote sensing of rain and ice in clouds in the Electrical Engineering department. After I started working at NASA, I further focused on the science remote sensing (estimating) of falling snow. As the Deputy Project Scientist of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, I get to use both my engineering and science skills. While I had expected that I would be leaving physics and my days in front of computers behind when I began my Electrical Engineering major, my career involves much of both. But I love it!

photos of snowflakesPhotos of snowflakes taken near Toronto, Canada during a 2012 field campaign to measure and understand falling snow processes. Credit: University of Manitoba, ground instruments.

The complexities of falling snow are great in terms of snowflake shape, melting fraction, and surface snowpack characteristics. Much work is needed to understand these properties of falling snow. Maybe you could help by studying engineering, meteorology, atmospheric science, or computer modeling. I look forward to seeing YOU in this field in the future.

Post by Gail Jackson, physical scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Jackson uses NASA satellites to study falling snow and other precipitation.

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Earth Science Week 2012
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