Climate Satellite Group Defines Earth's Water Changes
AUSTIN, Texas, December 21, 2007 (ENS) - The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, GRACE, mission operated by the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin has been recognized for outstanding contributions toward understanding the Earth through remote sensing.

Aerospace Engineering Professor Byron Tapley, who directs the center and GRACE, accepted the award December 10 from the U.S. Department of the Interior and NASA "for improving scientific understanding of water changes throughout the world."

The group award was accepted by Tapley and other leaders of the GRACE team, which also includes NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Germany's space agency and Germany's National Research Center for Geosciences.

GRACE uses twin satellites to make precise measurements of gravity-field changes on Earth.

Data from GRACE has established the rapid loss of ice mass in recent years from Greenland and Antarctica, and major changes in water storage in China's Yengtze River and other water sources, sometimes as a result of human use.

In addition to preparing GRACE satellite data for use by scientists internationally, the Center for Space Research engineers have improved the sensitivity of GRACE's measuring devices several times since the mission started in 2002.

The twin GRACE satellites before launch in March 2002. (Photo courtesy U. Texas)

This spring, center staff led by Dr. Srinavas Bettadpur provided researchers with the ability to estimate mass changes with a spatial resolution of less than 200 miles.

This level of precision proved important in 2006 when GRACE data identified Greenland's accelerated ice loss.

In a study published in the journal "Science," researcher Jianli Chen with the Center for Space Research and geology professor Clark Wilson and colleagues revealed that the island's ice loss occurs primarily along its southeastern edge.

Adding that ice into the North Atlantic current may lower water and wind temperatures traveling past Ireland's and Great Britain's west coasts, potentially producing chillier winters, they predict.

The Texas scientists and their team were honored with the William T. Pecora Award, presented annually to both a group and an individual at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The award was established in 1974 to honor the memory of Dr. William T. Pecora, former director of the U.S. Geological Survey and under secretary, Department of the Interior.

Dr. Pecora was a motivating force behind the establishment of a program for civil remote sensing of the Earth from space. His early vision and support helped establish what we know today as the Landsat satellite program.

This year's individual Pecora Award was presented to University of New Mexico geography professor Stanley Morain for his remote sensing research. Dr. Morain is director of the Earth Data Analysis Center at the university.

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