Space

Around the Water Cooler: HICO and H20

By Dustin Renwick

Even without a call from President Kennedy, outer space has enthralled America again. With the Mars rover, the inauguration of the commercial space industry, and a human diving from space unencumbered by vehicles, space is back in the public discussion.

EPA’s link to space exploration comes from the other final frontier: our oceans.

Blake Schaeffer, an EPA research ecologist, led a group that explored the use of space-based technology to monitor coastal waters as part of the EPA’s Pathfinder Innovation Projects.

The team used the Naval Research Laboratory’s Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO), mounted on the International Space Station.

Satellite sensors are typically designed for darker depths in the open ocean; light reflected from land prevents accurate measurements in waters close to shore. HICO was calibrated for coastal waters, but the EPA has never used remote satellite monitoring to measure water quality.

“We wanted to show something like this was possible,” Schaeffer said.

Images from HICO reveal a spectrum that EPA scientists analyze to determine water quality factors such as concentrations of chlorophyll and organic matter.

The difference of effort between current boat-based surveys and remote sensing via outer space is akin to creating fabric. A factory of people armed with knitting needles could weave cloth, but operating a loom could produce better results in less time and with fewer people.

Today’s monitoring strategies involve field observations that pinpoint tiny areas out of the thousands of beaches, inlets, and estuaries carving the U.S. coastline. Similar to the efficiency of a loom, HICO operations allow scientists to monitor larger swaths of water and conduct research previously limited by time, personnel or geographic constraints.

“We’re seeing right up into where freshwater streams and rivers meet the headwaters of estuaries, and that’s great,” said team member Darryl Keith, an EPA research oceanographer.

Keith said scientists have models to estimate water quality in freshwater and saltwater environments, but “few models cross the interface between these environments.”  HICO helps integrate the two.

Team researchers are also developing a smartphone application that will make their data accessible to the general public.

The project was based in Florida, but an ideal future could bring national water quality forecasts similar to today’s weather reports. If an algal bloom closes your favorite swim spot, you’ll have the information before you leave for the beach.

About the author:  Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Where Were You That Day?

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By Lina Younes

There are historic events that become engrained in our collective memories. I’m talking about those events that, even decades later, you remember exactly what you were doing when you first heard the news. Some of these events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, or September 11 obviously are linked to tragedies. However, there was particular event that captivated the world because of its magnitude and significance. Nearly half a century later, that one occurrence, that one step launched us into a new era of science, technology and exploration. What is the significant event that I’m referring to? The first lunar landing.

With the recent passing of former astronaut, Neil Armstrong, many of us shared our thoughts on the passing of this great American. For those of us who witnessed that moment in history, discussions via social media allowed us to share those recollections of how we experienced the first landing on the moon. Where were we? What were we doing at the time? Did we fully understand the significance of the moment? It was interesting to note that even Neil Armstrong who is described by many as a humble and reluctant hero did not classify that momentous occasion as a feat just for the United States, but as “a giant leap for mankind.”

As I’ve stated in previous blog entries, space exploration has opened a new world of science and technology that has benefitted us here on Earth, yet we take for granted. Did you know that NASA satellites opened a new world of communications that facilitated innovations in the mobile technologies of today? How about innovations in Earth sciences to analyze the quality of our air and other natural resources? Did you know that materials developed by NASA scientists have contributed to green technologies like solar panels? Did you know that technology developed as a result of the space program has also contributed to the development of better prothstetics and robotics used in medicine for the benefit of all mankind? These are just some of the positive outcomes of the space program that are only made possible by investing in science and technology. These successes are only possible if more students study science, technology, engineering and math. I’m sure there is another Neil Armstrong or Sally Ride within our midst who will open the door to new worlds. The stars are the limit!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Curious Visitor Takes Giant Step for Man on Mars

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By Lina Younes

Like many Americans across the country, last Sunday night I was glued to my computer screen impatiently waiting for the confirmation of the successful landing of the mobile science laboratory “Curiosity” on Mars. This technological feat is similar in magnitude to the first landing of man on the Moon. On Monday, while I was still marveling about the significance of Curiosity’s landing with colleagues, someone in the group posed a question that motivated me to write today’s blog. Basically, the question was “what does it matter to us on Earth?” I have been mulling that question ever since. Where do I begin?

Space exploration allows us to answer many questions related to life here on Earth. Through research conducted on board the International Space Station and space missions as well as the data compiled by NASA’s satellites, we will gain a better understanding of space and our Planet. This scientific research will also allow us to predict extreme weather events, learn more about our climate system, and the origins of our universe. This scientific research and collaboration with fellow federal agencies and international partners is also key to our mission here at EPA.

During Curiosity’s mission, the rover will be sending data to Earth which will provide answers to questions if there was life on Mars. If there was life, how did it exist? In what shape or form? And more importantly to us here on the third planet in our solar system, if there was life in Mars, why did it cease to exist? What made it disappear? Answers to these questions will help us gain valuable knowledge to enhance our stewardship of our Planet today. So, in response to the original question posed by one of my colleagues, “Yes, this mission means a lot to us on Earth!”

Furthermore, the scientific innovation developed through the space program is invaluable for the strength of our nation and our economy. What do we need to achieve further technological feats both here on Earth and in space? We need students to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Like Edwin P. Hubble, Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride before them, we need the new generation to reach for the stars.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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