16.1 Piers Sellers’ Unique Perspectives of the Earth from Space

Thursday, 11 January 2018: 2:30 PM
Room 16AB (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Forrest Hall, Biospheric Sciences Branch

Piers Seller’s central role in initiating, designing and conducting FIFE and BOREAS cannot be understated. He offered a unique perspective on our field of Earth Science in the sense that he truly “saw” Earth from a variety of perspectives. Through his role as an Earth scientist at Goddard, and his involvement in FIFE and BOREAS, Piers got up close and personal with the land surface and atmosphere we all seek to better understand. As an astronaut, he glimpsed a perspective that few humans ever see; he has seen the Earth as satellites “see” it. As an astronaut he participated in three space shuttle flights and logged over 559 hours in space, including nearly 41 EVA hours in 6 spacewalks.

Piers and I together, designed, implemented and managed the First ISLSCP Field Experiment (FIFE) and the Boreal Ecosystem-Atmosphere Study (BOREAS). The First ISLSCP Field Experiment, FIFE, was conceived in 1985, then planned and executed in two large field campaigns, one in 1987 and another in 1989. Planning for BOREAS followed three years later, the first campaign conducted in 1996 with a second campaign in 1998.

This paper will recount the science objectives of FIFE and BOREAS, which were to develop and test methods for upscaling our biophysical understanding from meter scales to geographic scales where carbon, climate and weather models operate. Also to develop and test satellite remote sensing algorithms for inferring the surface drivers of these models; land cover algorithms, satellite measurement of atmospheric radiation and snow albedo, improved soil freeze/thaw monitoring using radar, biomass density observation from lidar, and multi-angle and hyperspectral measurement of photosynthetic rates.

The paper will recount the challenges in designing and managing large-scale field experiments needed to acquire the data to test our understanding of small-scale processes up to the scale of satellite pixels and atmospheric turbulent transport at several kilometers.

Finally, the paper will summarize the key findings presented in the many papers in a number of special issue and elsewhere and show how these findings greatly advanced our understanding of the important roles that prairie grasslands, the circumpolar boreal ecosystem and vegetated surfaces in general play in global carbon dynamics, interannual variations in climate, weather patterns. The findings of FIFE and BOREAS laid the ground work crucial to the EOS remote sensing capabilities that have delivered a seventeen-year time series of the parameters essential to quantifying the states and rates of surface atmosphere energy, water, carbon and heat exchange for global forested biomes.

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