Dr. Knut Stamnes Receives NASA Grant for Environmental Monitoring

5/13/2011

Dr. Knut Stamnes, Professor and Department Director of Physics and Engineering Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology, has been awarded a NASA grant for work on mathematical tools to monitor oceanic ecosystems via satellite. His proposal to "use and further develop advanced radiative transfer tools for polarized radiation in coupled atmosphere-surface systems" is funded as part of NASA's recently-created program in remote sensing theory for Earth Science.

The satellite-driven technology will allow scientists to view any part of the world in order to determine the health of the oceanic ecosystem. Dr. Stamnes' proposed algorithms represent a significant advance in remote sensing that will allow people who work with the ocean – from fishermen to environmentalists to the military – to track and respond to changes in a coastal or maritime system.

"This grant from NASA recognizes Dr. Stamnes' long-term efforts in developing technologies that support intelligent approaches to crises that result from natural and man-made changes in the environment. Remote sensing of the world's oceans is a critical step forward towards a more sophisticated understanding of global climate change and its effects," says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. "His award is consistent with Stevens wide-ranging program to increase observations and awareness of marine environments through research initiatives like the Center for Maritime Systems."

Follow up:

When visible and near-infrared light from the sun hits the ocean and the matter within it, some of it reflects and scatters back into the atmosphere, travelling to an orbiting satellite, where it is processed as data to be analyzed. Mathematical algorithms are used to interpret the colors of the backscattered light, employing the information available in all wavelengths (colors) in order to quantify the impact of the intervening atmosphere, and give scientists a clear indication of the contents of the water below. The NASA research grant allows Dr. Stamnes to design algorithms that isolate and analyze sunlight reflected from the ocean. "As instruments become more accurate and accommodate more wavelengths that include polarization information, more refined tools are needed," he comments.

These algorithms will allow scientists to track organic and inorganic matter in the water – distinguishing chlorophyll from silt, for instance – or even differentiating benign algal blooms from harmful algal blooms that suck the oxygen from the water and destroy sea life. At the same time, the algorithms will be very robust, and with some changes will be able to aid scientists in exploring other issues that utilize the study of polarization, scattering and refraction of light in the coupled atmosphere-ocean system. In this capacity, Dr. Stamnes' NASA research dovetails with his work as Director of the Light and Life Laboratory, which studies the interaction of light with the environment.

"The algorithm work is generic, which means that it can be applied to a wide range of issues. Beyond ocean monitoring, we could also measure snow and ice properties in the Arctic, for example," Dr. Stamnes says. The technical tools could be modified to deal with global warming, one particular interest of the Light and Life Laboratory. Advancing beyond pictures that reveal the disappearance of ice and snow, Dr. Stamnes' algorithms would allow researchers to accurately determine factors like the age of the snow and impurities that impact the radiative energy balance and thereby climate, giving scientists a much better understanding of the system as it evolves.

Maritime Monitoring at Stevens
A number of Stevens initiatives already keep tabs on the maritime environment. The National Center for Secure and Resilient Maritime Commerce (CSR) boasts maritime domain monitoring to keep people safe against natural and man-made threats. The Center for Environmental Studies conducts environmental monitoring, analysis, and modeling to assess current environmental conditions and forecast future risks to our resources. The Center for Maritime Systems houses the Marine Observation and Prediction Laboratory, as well as the Coastal Engineering Research Laboratory. A number of ocean monitoring initiatives are underway at CMS, such as the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NY-HOPS), which uses a network of sensors to monitor ocean, weather, and environmental conditions throughout the New York Harbor region in real time, and even forecast conditions. The NJ Coastal Monitoring Network tracks wave characteristics, water temperature, water levels, and meteorological conditions along New Jersey's shoreline in order to provide real-time information to local, state, and federal emergency personnel.

Department of Physics and Engineering Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology
The Department of Physics and Engineering Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology maintains a strong intellectual environment that fosters interdisciplinary research and prepares students for careers in physics related research and broader areas of technology development. The department is home to undergraduate and graduate degree programs and a graduate certificate program with special emphases on the fields of atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) physics; photonics technology; quantum optics; and quantum information science. At the heart of the undergraduate program is the Science Knowledge Integration Ladder (SKIL), a six-semester project-focused course sequence that fosters independent learning, innovative problem solving, collaboration and teamwork, and knowledge integration under the guidance of a faculty advisor. Learn more: visit /ses/physics/about/