Education: JPL Salinity Workshop

The Aquarius/SAC-D satellite began collecting NASA's first-ever measurements of Sea Surface Salinity in 2011, providing a missing piece in global climate studies. Because salinity is a principal surface tracer of fresh water into and out of the ocean, the data can be used to better understand the interconnectedness of the water cycle, circulation and climate.

This workshop focused on pairing educators with NASA scientists to explore the concepts and data from the Aquarius mission. A subset of experienced "master teachers" worked directly with the scientists to become content experts who could guide and facilitate other teachers in finding resources to fit into their own classroom needs.

This experience provided the resources to help understand, explain and teach:
  • How the processes of the water cycle relate to the oceans
  • How ocean salinity affects ocean circulation
  • How changes in the ocean's circulation can produce large changes in climate
  • How new technology can enhance the gathering and manipulation of oceanic data
Participating educators worked with concept maps (see links, below) created by the scientists to explore resources and concepts related to the workshop theme (Water Cycle, Circulation, and Climate). These maps were then adapted by the participants for use in their own classrooms.

JPL Salinity Workshop: Water Cycle, Circulation and Climate
November 9-10, 2012
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

Participating Scientists
Yi Chao

Yi Chao
Remote Sensing Solutions
Concept Map: What Are We Learning From Aquarius Data?
In his talk (and corresponding concept map), Dr. Chao walked participants through the data the Aquarius satellite has received and what we can learn from that data. Highlights from the talk included a discussion of historical information (how have we collected salinity data in the past) as well as how Aquarius satellite data compares with other in-water and field instrumentation (Argo, SPURS expedition).

Dr. Chao received his Ph.D. from Princeton University (Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Program, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory). His research interests include satellite oceanography with a particular focus on coastal oceans; ocean modeling, data assimilation and forecasting; interdisciplinary science of coupling ocean circulation with ecosystem and air-sea interactions; and climate variability and change.

Michelle Gierach

Michelle Gierach
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Concept Map: How Does Salinity Drive Ocean Circulation?
During this workshop, Dr. Gierach collaborated with Leticia Escajeda and Matt Leader (both educators) to produce a concept map examining how sea surface salinity drives ocean circulation. In their map, she hits on the key oceanic processes involved - salinity and density - and then links ocean circulation to the larger concepts of atmospheric climate and biogeochemistry.

Dr. Gierach received her Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina. Her research interests include application of satellite observations, in-situ data, and model simulations to study biophysical interactions, ecosystem dynamics, air-sea interactions, ocean dynamics, atmospheric processes, and the oceans relation to climate variability.

Josh Willis
Climate change is a phrase heard more and more frequently in the 21st century, but often times is not well understood. To help explain the complexity of atmospheric climate, Dr. Willis, along with workshop educators, developed a concept map aimed at making the connection between climate and the heat stored in both the oceans and the atmosphere. What does more heat in the atmosphere mean for global climate? How do things like temperature and sea surface salinity play a role in the heating of the oceans? These questions and more are answered in this interactive map.

Dr. Willis received his Ph.D. in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California. His research interests include estimating ocean warming and sea level rise on regional to global scales; the role of the ocean in the Earth's climate system under global climate change; understanding large scale changes in the ocean and its circulation on interannual to decadal time scales; and development of analysis techniques for global oceanographic data sets.

Zhijin (Gene) Li

Zhijin (Gene) Li
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Concept Map 1: What Are Models and How do they Work?
Concept Map 2: How is Ocean Modeling Used in the SPURS Expedition?
For this workshop, Dr. Li developed two concept maps, both of which conceptualize what scientific models are, how they work, and their applications. In the first map (What are Models and How do they Work?), Dr. Li walked participants through the developmental process of a computational model: theoretical studies and historical data are all necessary components of a successful model. In his second map (How is Ocean Modeling Used in the SPURS Expedition?), Dr. Li discussed how data collected on the SPURS (Salinity Processes in the Upper ocean Regional Study) study can be fed back into these models, improving their forecasting abilities and strengthening their outputs.

Dr. Li, a research technologist at JPL, studies conceptual development and mathematical formulation of atmospheric and oceanic data assimilation algorithms; implementation of advanced data assimilation algorithms for real-time forecasting systems; parallel computing of atmospheric and oceanic modeling and adjoint systems; development and application of adjoint models associated with sophisticated atmospheric and oceanic models and their physics; and predictability.

Doug Capone

Doug Capone
University of Southern California
Concept Map: How a CO2 Source Becomes a Sink
For his concept map, Dr. Capone focused on the role that nutrients and salinity play in the Amazon River plume and what that means for CO2 sequestration. In the map, participants were shown how the dynamics of the Amazon River create an environment in which single-celled phytoplankton thrive and take up excess CO2 (by pulling it from the atmosphere vai coastal water mixing), thereby creating a "sink".

Dr. Capone received his Ph.D. in Oceanography from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of Miami (Fl). His research interests include learning about bacteria's ability to promote the absorption of greenhouse gas; the importance of nitrogen fixation in the biogeochemistry of the oceans and the major groups of organisms involved in this process; experimental manipulation of nutrient dynamics in coral reefs systems; the examination of South Pole snows for active populations of bacteria; and analyses of microbial processes in mangrove ecosystems.

Guest Speakers
NASA scientists Jorge Vázquez and Vardis Tsontos facilitated a session during the workshop on how to access salinity data online using the PO.DAAC system. Walking through the PO.DAAC website, Jorge and Vardis demonstrated how to access Aquarius data and previewed data products that educators could use in their classrooms.

Jorge Vazquez

Jorge Vázquez
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Dr. Vazquez received his Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from the University of Southern California. His research interests include validation of satellite-derived sea surface temperature data sets; development and analysis of climate data records; statistical modeling of remote sensing data; and improvement in quality of sea surface temperature data records.

Vardis Tsontos

Vardis Tsontos
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Dr. Tsontos received his Ph.D. from Imperial College, University of London (Renewable Resources Assessment Group) in Fisheries Ecology/Population Dynamics. He is based at the NASA/JPL PO.DAAC where he serves as the data engineer supporting the Aquarius project and SST observations. His research interests include geospatial informatics and the application of remote sensing data to marine resource management problems.