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Curt Davis wins NASA science team appointment

Drawing upon nearly two decades of polar ice sheet research, CoE Professor Curt Davis will begin serving this month as part of a team managing a NASA satellite dedicated to measuring changes in the thickness of Earth’s ice sheets.

Davis, an electrical and computer engineering faculty member, is one of eight scientists selected by NASA for its new Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) science team. Team members are charged with calibrating and verifying data from the satellite’s laser to ensure scientists around the world are working with the best possible information.

“ We’re basically the managers of the satellite,” Davis said.

Davis also won funding from NASA to analyze and compare current ICESat laser data on the Greenland ice sheet with earlier information generated by radar satellites. Though the precise level of NASA’s funding still must be determined, Davis hopes the three-year research project will greatly improve the accuracy of Greenland coastal area information.

Accuracy is vital to ICESat’s work, which aims to use ice sheet measurements to understand and predict global sea levels. With ICESat’s measurements, NASA hopes to discover whether melting at the edges of Earth’s ice sheets creates more ocean water than is lost through increased snowfall over the entire ice sheet, NASA’s ICESat Web site says.

Higher sea levels flood coastal areas and can increase the violence of storms.

Davis attributes his membership on the ICESat team to the 18 years he has spent studying polar ice sheets, which led to his high-profile finding last year that the surface of East Antarctica’s interior has been thickening. That work led Davis to improve the quality of ice sheet data generated by NASA and the European Space Agency—efforts similar to those he will undertake as an ICESat science team member.

The newly formed ICESat team’s first meeting is slated for June 12 through June 14 at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

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