Meet Claire Parkinson
Claire Parkinson
Claire Parkinson stands in front of a sea ice ridge in the central Arctic
Claire Parkinson
Senior Research Scientist, Polar Science
Aqua Project Scientist

I'm a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and I use satellite data to study climate. Much of my research has centered around sea ice, which is ice formed in the polar and subpolar oceans, and its connection with the rest of the climate system. Sea ice has major impacts because it spreads over huge areas, reflects sunlight back to space, and partially insulates the polar ocean from the cold polar atmosphere.

I work with others here at Goddard to take the satellite data, convert it into information about the ice, and analyze how ice cover has changed since the 1970s when satellites first started providing detailed information. To do the analysis, we use computers to create maps and plots of the data. We also calculate how well the sea ice data corresponds to other data, like air temperatures, and use those results to try to explain the changes in the ice and in the atmosphere and oceans. Sometimes the results are unexpected and exciting, as they help to reveal new information about the Earth system.

Although most of my work is done at Goddard, once in a while I go on a field expedition. I even got to go to the North Pole in 1999. That time we were measuring how thick the ice is, which is something that we can't get as well from satellite data as from measurements of the sea ice itself. The field work involves sleeping in tents, getting very cold, and working together to get the best possible measurements in a short period of time. It tends to be an exciting break from the normal routine of office work.

Another major part of my job is to be the project scientist for a satellite mission named Aqua. This is a NASA mission aimed at obtaining information about water in all its forms within the Earth-atmosphere system. Aqua was launched in May 2002 and has a suite of six instruments collecting data on water vapor and clouds in the atmosphere and liquid water and ice in the oceans and on land.

Like other scientists, I write up my research results in scientific journal articles and I give presentations about them at scientific conferences. Sometimes the results are of interest to more people than just scientists, and in those cases reporters will sometimes call and I'll explain the results to them. I also give talks at schools and to the general public to let them know about the sea ice work and the Aqua satellite. It's particularly neat to get to show the results to audiences who haven't seen much from satellites before. To make satellite results more understandable, I've also written a book entitled "Earth from Above: Using Color-Coded Satellite Images to Examine the Global Environment."

Related Resources

Women of NASA


Arctic Observatory/Sea Ice in the Polar Regions

Order "Earth From Above" book

Written by Claire Parkinson
Edited by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies