IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Earth Science & Observation Center studies global environment
Telling the Earth's story from a broader perspective
“Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” Socrates
From the farthest reaches of the Earth to our own backyard in the Rocky Mountains, the Earth Science and Observation Center (ESOC) at CU-Boulder seeks to understand the interconnected processes that comprise the overall Earth system, how the system is changing, and what those changes mean for life on Earth.
Using a variety of technologies, the center engages in interdisciplinary studies of the global environment. Satellite, airborne and ground-based remote sensing, as well as field measurements and computer modeling, allow ESOC scientists to piece together a narrative of the physical and biological processes that tell the story of climate, the secrets of polar ice, the nature and vulnerability of the Earth's ecosystems and the interaction of all these as a complex whole.
All the components of the Earth's system are so intertwined, scientists can't fully understand any of them without some understanding of all of them, said Waleed Abdalati, ESOC director and associate professor of geography.
“We use satellites to look at the Earth as a whole, as a system, because satellites provide a tremendous perspective and context for change,” he said. “We get a much more meaningful picture of changes in the Earth than if we study one area in isolation without consideration of the other processes and other places on Earth.”
His goal for ESOC is to serve as a platform for remote sensing-based Earth system research and to provide a scientific and policy-relevant perspective to a global audience.
Abdalati has a master's degree from the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and a doctorate from the Department of Geography. He is the former head of NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Branch and is currently leading a multidisciplinary team to develop NASA's next ice satellite mission.
ESOC houses six faculty members from the departments of geological science, geography, ecology and evolutionary biology, aerospace engineering, and civil engineering. Faculty, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students are currently studying Arctic climate change, ice sheets and sea level, land use and climate change, landscape and ecosystem ecology, and surface water hydrology.
Originally called the Center for the Study of Earth from Space (CSES) when it was founded in 1985 as part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, (CIRES) its initial research projects investigated problems in global geoscience. After Abdalati came on board in 2008, the center was renamed the Earth Science and Observation Center to reflect a broadened research focus.
“I'm trying to develop the center in the face of challenges that are very different from those that were in place when the center was founded in 1985,” he said. “The funding, political, and scientific environment has changed considerably over the last decade, and that requires a new approach to how the center moves forward to become a leading organization in remote-sensing-based Earth system science.”
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