layout University Affiliated Research Center - UC Santa Cruz - NASA Ames Research Center

Earth Sciences

  • Greater understanding of global systems through research, observation, and advanced instrumentation
  • Developing and validating theories and research plans for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
  • Developing sensors for Unpiloted Aerial Systems (UASs) as NASA seeks to demonstrate and explore their unique capabilities.

NASA’s programs in the Earth Sciences seek to answer the questions: "How is the Earth changing?” and, “What are the consequences for life on Earth?".  Research is being conducted in six focus areas:

  • Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems
  • Atmospheric Composition
  • Climate Variability and Change
  • Weather
  • Earth Surface and Interior (Geology)
  • Water and Energy Cycle

Research into ecosystems and their role in the global carbon cycle is conducted through direct observation of vegetation in forests and wetlands, and also during fires. Observations are also used as inputs for ecological modeling. Atmospheric composition is studied by direct measurement and through modeling. In both cases, observations are generated in the context of top-level theory, and synthesized and developed to explain and predict the observations, including temporal and spatial variation.

Much of this data collection relies on resources and expertise in airborne research, including digital imaging sensors and in-sítu instrumentation onboard aircraft. With direction from NASA Headquarters, research is performed using a suite of general aviation aircraft as well as Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) operated by other agencies or commercial providers.

Sensor Systems Development
  • Engage in the design, fabrication, and/or integration of custom airborne sensing and data acquisition systems.
  • Engage in the fabrication and implementation of new sensor and data systems, advancing the current state-of-the-art for airborne sensor hardware and in the development of autonomous on-board processing of digital image data.
  • Conduct precision calibration measurements on all sensor systems prior to release.
  • Develop software components crucial to effective use of sensors
Experimental Data Collection
  • Engineering test flights including sensor testing, validation of unique prototype systems and the collection of science data will be conducted on board various NASA platforms including the ER-2, DC-8, or those of other designated providers such as King air B200, Jetstream J31, Cessna Caravan, Proteus, Altair and Global Hawk, as appropriate to the particular project.
  • Conduct, and in some cases organize, field campaigns in collaboration with larger NASA earth science projects.
  • Conduct flight missions to support disaster management activities such as fire mapping, floods and volcanoes.
  • Research theory of instrumentation calibration and develop methodology for precision calibration measurements on all sensor systems.
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