Hossain captures NASA New Investigator Award

Satellite data about global precipitation will soon have something in common with food in your grocery store -- and that similarity will improve the accuracy of weather predictions, particularly about floods, around the globe, thanks to a NASA grant awarded to Faisal Hossain, Civil and Environmental Engineering assistant professor.

Just as consumers read nutrition labels to learn about the contents, those who use satellite data to monitor and predict rainfall will be able to use information tags attached to satellite information to learn more.

Hossain was selected one of just 18 recipients nationwide to receive a NASA New Investigator Program grant in Earth Sciences. His winning proposal, among 78 submitted, is the first NIP award of its kind in TTU history. His goal is to tag information sent from satellites to help users decide whether or not the information is relevant and appropriate for their use.

"We'll try to give you value-added information about the product, then you decide how and when to use it. It's almost like reading numbers on a box about cholesterol, saturated fat and calories and then deciding if it is healthy food given your health conditions," said Hossain.

NASA is supporting Hossain's work to tag the information through the New Investigator Program in Earth Science because NASA has long been concerned with "crossing the Valley of Death," the place, according to the National Research Council, where investments intended to spur useful implementation of ideas go to die.

"I want to try and cross the 'Valley of Death' myself and see what happens," said Hossain. "There is so much satellite precipitation data being misused that practical applications are difficult. Also, there's been a ton of research and publications, but very little of it has crossed the valley and trickled down to operational scenarios serving society now.

"The misuse comes when we try to use large scale data to make predictions on a really small scale," he explained. "It's like trying to use satellite data to predict rainfall in your subdivision.

"On the large scale, the errors that are allowed won't work to make accurate predictions on a small scale," he said. "We've done a pretty good job on a large scale with hurricane tracking, weather forecasting, and climate predictions. But for smaller scale applications on land, where our livelihood is directly affected, there's a gap in our ability to use satellite rainfall data as effectively."

NASA's planned Global Precipitation Measurement mission, scheduled for 2013, will represent a unique constellation of rain measuring satellites. Why is measuring rainfall this way so important?

Hossain says there are several reasons. First, researchers studying whether or not the climate is warming must know all about rainfall.

"Rainfall is nothing but condensation that comes with a tremendous release of heat," explained Hossain. "To study climate changes, you have to study how the heat is moving around."

Other vital areas include water management, weather forecasting, as well as forecasting the track and intensity of events such as cyclones and hurricanes.

Ground data is the still the standard for rainfall measurement, but as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, ground equipment is vulnerable and can be disabled at the most critical times. Hossain says satellite data is most useful were there is no ground information or that information cannot be verified.

Also, the distribution of ground data is inhibited by political and geographical boundaries. The information may never reach those who need the information most.

"Satellites are cost effective and self-maintaining," said Hossain. "They can provide data all over the globe. And we can flag that data so that those receiving it can make intelligent decisions that impact lives and livelihoods in their immediate area."

Hossain says the plan is for data and the information flags to be accessible by the Internet in close to real time when the NASA GPM mission is operational. A dream of Hossain's that is in sync with NASA's vision is to eventually make all water-based information from such satellite missions a free commodity for planning and management of resources for poor nations or communities.

Hossain's three-year grant was funded for more than $300,000 through the ROSES, Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences Program. NASA established the NIP program in Earth Science in 1996 to encourage integrated environments for research and education for scientists and engineers at the early stage of their professional careers.

The program, designed for investigators at academic institutions and non-profit organizations, encompasses all areas of research and development in Earth system science, applications, technology, as well as activities in education, science communication, and interdisciplinary endeavors.

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