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Students Use Space Technology to Explore "From Sea to Shore"

Press Release From: Goddard Space Flight Center
Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2002

They've been to the Mediterranean Sea to retrieve ancient artifacts. They've been to Hawaii to peer into volcanoes. They've even been to Alaska to solve the mystery surrounding ice worms. And in January 2003, with the help of cutting edge technology that NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has used and developed, JASON Project students around the country will explore the Channel Islands to see the area in a way no one else has.

"This effort not only infuses NASA technologies into a NASA science mission, but also directly addresses the NASA mission element - to inspire the next generation of explorers," said Patrick Coronado, Senior Engineer at the Applied Information Sciences Branch at Goddard.

Using remote sensors (instruments that collect data from afar rather than through direct contact), Coronado will lead students as part of JASON XIV, "From Sea to Shore," in surveying the ocean water surrounding Anacapa Island off the coast of California. The JASON Project has united scientists and middle school students since its initial project in 1989 by allowing a few students to directly participate in a scientific research study. The research is broadcast live to other students around the nation.

The next JASON Project will involve student "Argonauts" monitoring sea surface temperatures and gulf currents and deriving chlorophyll concentrations and chlorophyll fluorescence. They will then be able to determine the abundance, condition and variability of life in the area. The data and images will be available in real-time for participating students around the country. JASON participants will also use SeaWiFS data to monitor ocean color and Landsat 7 satellite data to monitor land vegetation and the Kelp Beds around Anacapa Island in the Marine Sanctuary.

To assist in these tasks, NASA will provide students access to data from Terra and Aqua satellites. These satellites are part of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) missions. Using the instrument MODIS (Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), both satellites measure and transmit visible and infrared wavelengths emanating from Earth. Terra satellite, for example, observes changes in vegetation, ice and snow across land. Aqua satellite primarily collects information about the Earth's water cycle.

The satellites will then transmit data to NASA's Direct Readout Mobile Ground System (MGS) stationed at Santa Barbara, Calif., for real-time visualization of the researched area. The MGS will house Goddard-developed direct readout technology such as the Multi-Mission Scheduler (MMS), the Real-Time Software Telemetry Processing System (RT-STPS), Simulcast and the NEpster distribution system. After the MMS schedules and configures the MGS, the MGS will acquire data from the MODIS instrument on the satellites and extract it using RT-STPS software. Simulcast will then create a real-time image of the area, allowing students to differentiate between ocean, land and cloud cover and identify shallow water coral reef.

At the same time, Oregon State University, the leader in MODIS chlorophyll fluorescence research, will acquire the MODIS data and create sea surface temperature, chlorophyll concentrations and chlorophyll fluorescence maps. The university will process this data and send the image products to the MGS via the Internet for the Argonauts to use in their research.

The MGS will also receive data from at least five NASA Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) planes. These planes, some of which are electric for hand-launch and some of which are gas-powered, are controlled with a remote control. Each weighs 10-20 pounds, has a wingspan of 8-11 feet and can fly up to 40 mph for 30 to 120 minutes. The first NASA remote sensing plane will be dedicated to and named by participants in this year's JASON Project. Though NASA has used UAV planes recently for agricultural monitoring, as part of the JASON Project they will carry a thermal imager, a NASA Wallops Flight Facility-developed microspectrometer and color video camera to survey the sea area.

The UAV planes' thermal imager will identify gradual changes in sea surface temperature, indicating the presence of ocean current mixings. While the microspectrometer generates chlorophyll profile data, the video camera will provide a natural view of the area of research. The UAV planes will also be equipped with NASA's RIPcom hardware to provide real-time information about the collected data and information about the health and location of the plane. RIPcom will make these details available on the Internet for JASON Project students not on-site. "The students will see an outline of the coast and islands with various colors over the ocean indicating either sea surface temperature, chlorophyll concentrations or fluorescence," said Coronado. "The maps or image products will have a color key indicating quantity or level of the physical parameter being studied."

In the process of collecting and analyzing data, students will learn about the scientific method and the importance of repeating an experiment to ensure that the results are accurate. The Argonauts will verify the information gathered by the remote sensors with handheld instruments by comparing these results with data from the satellites and UAV planes. Finally, all of the data, image products, graphics and student conclusions will be available on the Internet through the NEpster distribution system software. Data will also be posted on NASA's Earth Observatory web site so students around the country using a recently developed ICE (Image Composite Editor) tool program may manipulate and correlate Channel Island data in the classroom.

Over one million students annually participate in the JASON Project.

For information about past JASON Projects, visit:

http://www.jason.org

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