Tech

June 23, 2014

College students study Earth from NASA’s DC-8 flying lab

Jonathan Hemingway, an applied meteorology and computational mathematics major at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, assists in installation of the Whole Air Sampler instrument on NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory.

 
Thirty-two undergraduate students from a like number of colleges and universities are participating in an eight-week NASA Airborne Science Program field experience designed to immerse them in the agency’s Earth Science research.

Flying aboard NASA’s DC-8 airborne laboratory, students will measure pollution, aerosols (small particles suspended in the atmosphere) and air quality in the Los Angeles basin and California’s central valley. They will also use remote sensing instruments to study forest ecology in the Sierra Nevada and ocean biology along the California coast.

Now in its sixth year, NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program (SARP) provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students majoring in the sciences, mathematics and engineering to participate in all aspects of a NASA Airborne Science research campaign.

Professor Donald Blake of the University of California—Irvine outlines procedures for installation of air canister racks on NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory to students participating in NASA’s 2014 Student Airborne Research Program.

SARP participants are given a rare behind-the-scenes look at the instrument installation, flight planning and scientific data collection that is the basis of every successful NASA Earth Science airborne campaign. These campaigns play a pivotal role in the acquisition of process-oriented knowledge about the Earth system, as well as calibration of NASA’s space-borne Earth observation instruments, validation of remote sensing measurements and high-resolution imagery for Earth system science.

SARP began June 16 at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California, with lectures by university faculty members, NASA scientists and NASA program managers. The students will then be aboard the DC-8 on five flights during the week of June 23. They will acquire multi-spectral images of kelp beds in the Santa Barbara Channel and of forests in the Sierra Nevada.

In addition, the students will fly over dairies and oil fields in the San Joaquin Valley, parts of the Los Angeles basin and the Salton Sea at altitudes as low as 1,000 feet in order to collect air samples, measure aerosols and air quality. During the final flight, half of the students will be in the field taking ground validation or complementary measurements while the DC-8 flies overhead.

Caleb Sykora-Bodie, an environmental geoscience and geography major at Slippery Rock University, connects lines during installation of the Whole Air Sampler instrument for the SARP flights.

The final six weeks of the program will take place at the University of California, Irvine where students will analyze and interpret the data they collected from science instruments on the aircraft. At the conclusion of the program, the students will each deliver final presentations about their results and conclusions in front of an audience of NASA scientists and administrators, university faculty members and their fellow SARP students. In past summers, many students have gone on to present their SARP research projects at national conferences.

Students participating in the 2014 SARP represent 32 different colleges and universities from across the United States. They were competitively selected based on their outstanding academic performance, future career plans and interest in the Earth System Science.

The Student Airborne Research Program is one of NASA’s tools to expose future scientists to the Earth Science missions that support environmental studies and the testing and development of new instruments and future satellite mission concepts. The program’s goal is to stimulate interest in NASA’s Earth Science research and aid in the recruitment and training of the next generation of scientists and engineers, many of whom will be getting their first hands-on research experience during this program.

Krystal Vasquez, a chemistry major at the University of California, Riverside, assists in the installation of the Whole Air Sampler instrument on NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

SARP is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, through the National Suborbital Education and Research Center at the University of North Dakota. As part of the Ames Cooperative for Research in Earth Science and Technology, NSERC receives funding and support from NASA’s Earth Science Division.

For additional information about SARP, visit www.nserc.und.edu/sarp.
 

Josette Marrero, a Ph.D. candidate in the Rowland-Blake Lab at UC Irvine, explains the installation of the Whole Air Sampler on board NASA’s DC-8 to Student Airborne Research Program participants.




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