NASA recruits UON scientist for climate change mission

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


NASA has appointed University of Newcastle (UON) Professor Shin-Chan Han as part of an elite research group aimed at measuring climate change from space.

Satellite over Earth

Joining NASA’s GRACE and GRACE FO (follow on) missions, Professor Han will help increase scientific understanding of concerning phenomena such as widespread floods/droughts, climate changes, earthquakes and ice loss in Greenland, Western Antarctica and Eastern Antarctica.

Professor Han said the missions would provide an accurate global picture of climate change impacts.

“Only by understanding our current status as accurately and comprehensively as possible, can we hope to better predict the future in order to prepare and respond to climate change.”

Climate data is collected via GRACE’s two identical spacecraft – ‘Tom’ and ‘Jerry’, orbiting 500km above Earth, 15 times a day, flying about 220 km apart and travelling at a rate of 7- 8km per second.

The spacecraft measure gravity, which changes in strength according to many variables such as the presence of mountains or density of rocks as well as water cycles.

Using this information, scientists can build a precise (down to one micron – or one tenth of human hair level of accuracy) reading of the surface of the earth and therefore pick up even slight changes caused by sea level rise or ice loss.

Analysis of the data requires collaboration by research experts from a number of fields to deal with complex interdisciplinary problems. Professor Han said his team will also focus on removing non-climate signals.

“With this project, the calculations left out are as important as the calculations that go in.”

“Our work in the Geodesy area is focused on removing ‘the other’ signals related to the changes in the ‘solid’ part of the Earth system to deal with deformation caused by earthquakes, for example.”

Professor Han’s team submitted NASA’s top rated proposal for the GRACE and GRACE FO missions, a significant achievement given the calibre of talent the missions attract.

Professor Han said his team felt privileged to be part of a project that could help to better understand one of the greatest threats to the planet.

“This is an incredibly important project that provides a global perspective of how and why the earth is changing and we are honoured to be a part of it.”