Student Features

Claire Parkinson
Claire Parkinson
Claire Parkinson
Claire Parkinson
Senior Research Scientist, Polar Science
Aqua Project Scientist

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

I work with others at Goddard to convert the satellite data into information about the ice and analyze how ice cover has changed since the 1970s. That's when satellites first started giving detailed information on ice. To do the analysis, we use computers to make maps and plots of the data. We also calculate how well the sea ice data matches up with other data, like air temperatures. With those results we try to explain the changes in the ice, atmosphere and oceans. Sometimes the results are unexpected and exciting. They help to uncover new information about the Earth system.

Although most of my work is done at Goddard, once in a while I go on a trip. I even got to go to the North Pole in 1999. That time we were measuring how thick the ice is. It's more accurate to measure this up close than from a satellite. The trip involved sleeping in tents, getting very cold, and working together. It was an exciting break from the normal office work.

Another major part of my job is to be the scientist for a satellite mission named Aqua. The goal of this NASA mission is to obtain information about water on Earth in all its forms -- gas, liquid and solid. Aqua was launched in May 2002.

Like other scientists, I write about my research in scientific journals and I give presentations at conferences. When the results are of interest to more people than just scientists, reporters will sometimes call me and I'll explain the results to them. I also give talks at schools and to the general public to tell them about the sea ice work and the Aqua satellite. It's particularly neat to show the results to audiences who haven't seen much from satellites before. To help people understand satellite results, I've written a book about how satellites are used to study the Earth system.

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