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Campus News

January 23rd, 2024

Evolution of satellite technology explored

Wind takes JCLS audience from ‘cut-and-paste' to self-updating systems

The first global weather mosaic, via the TIROS-9 satellite in 1965, was cut-and-pasted by hand.

"It was a lot of glue stick and scissors," Dr. Galina Wind told last Wednesday's Joan Crawford Lecture Series audience during her presentation at the Performing Arts Center at Garrett College.

Wind then fast-forwarded 42 years, showing a satellite image from earlier in the day centered on the eastern half of the United States.

"You can see who got snow and who didn't," said Wind, pointing out the snow line that ran through the southeastern United States. "There's a path in central Ohio that you can see didn't get any snow.

"We're spoiled brats now," added Wind with a smile, noting our expectations of satellite imagery have increased along with the technology that provides those images.

Wind – who earned a doctorate in atmospheric and oceanic science from the University of Maryland College Park – focused on the advances in and ever-expanding use of satellite technology. She also noted the staying power of some of the earliest satellites, which are still orbiting the earth and sending data back home.

Wind highlighted some of the important "firsts" in the United States' satellite program. Vanguard 1 (1958) provided the first scientific observations of Earth from space; two years later TIROS 1 transmitted the first observation of a developing weather system and the first accurate weather forecasts from space.

"That provided the first true, bird's-eye view to one of these enormous weather systems that can span the entire continental United States," said Wind, noting this permitted "meteorologists to make the first accurate weather forecasts using space-based data."

Wind said photos from the TIROS 9, which "acquired enough data to create the first global mosaic," had to be "stitched together out of 415 individual images to get the very first image of what global weather looked like."

"There was not enough computational power in the entire globe to stitch those images together on a computer," explained Wind, noting the output was a far cry from what is available today.

"A computer can now assemble these global pictures of weather automatically and it updates itself every time new data comes in," Wind said.

Wind noted that several governmental entities have played key roles in the development of satellite technology

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) developed the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) that became "the standard for space-based weather observations" while providing over 40 years' worth of data. Meanwhile, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) expanded satellite technology beyond its earliest mission, changing the equation by developing a systemic satellite philosophy.

"Atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere – everyone was in their own world and not talking very much to one another," Wind said of 1960s-style satellite thinking. "Viewing the earth as a system allowed us to bridge a lot of these systems, breaking down the silos in the process."

NASA has also made the output of today's satellite technology available to the average citizen. Wind demonstrated uses of Worldview, a tool from NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System. This tool permits people to interactively browse over 1,000 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and download underlying data.

Wind received Bachelor of Science and Master of Computer Science degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2000 and 2002, respectively. She also earned a Master of Science in atmospheric and oceanic science from UMCP prior to completing her doctoral work.

Garrett College's faculty created the Joan Crawford Lecture Series in honor of the dynamic educator Joan R. Crawford.

Crawford, who died in 2010, served the College community for more than 30 years, including serving as the head of the humanities division and director of enrollment. After her retirement, Crawford was named Professor Emerita.