People of PACE: Amir Ibrahim Understands the Atmosphere to Study the Ocean

Amir Ibrahim is the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) project science lead for atmospheric correction at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

What is your favorite atmospheric or ocean related book or movie?

A man wearing khaki pants, a black sweatshirt, and sunglasses stands to the right of the image. He is leaning against a large piece of driftwood and standing on the beach. There are three other smaller pieces of driftwood scattered throughout the picture. Majority of the picture is taken up by the beach, but the top of the image shows the horizon, some clouds, and a blue-gray colored sky.
Following a conference in Canada, Ibrahim decided to take a break and venture into Vancouver Island, dedicating part of his time to exploring Tofino. Credit: Samantha Weltz

My favorite ocean movie is “The Perfect Storm.” I know it’s not a happy movie, but I think it’s a great movie that shows us how mighty the ocean is and how important it is to our lives. The impact of the storm on the ocean also shows us how important our understanding of the interactions between our atmosphere and our oceans are.

What do you do for PACE?

The PACE mission aims to accurately study the ocean and its constituents as observed from space. The Earth’s atmosphere has small particles called aerosols and air molecules that interfere with ocean observations. My role within the PACE mission is developing algorithms to separate that ocean signal from the atmosphere and correct for these atmospheric particles in order to have a more accurate view of the ocean and phytoplankton particles.

What was your favorite part of the launch?

I was fortunate to be able to see the launch at Kennedy Space Center. It was a very joyous moment. I was able to see many years of work come to fruition with the launch of the satellite.  I am excited to be able to get the data and attempt to answer all our science questions.

What are you most looking forward to when data starts coming in?

Over the past several years, we have been building a simulator to predict what PACE is expecting to see from space. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort building that simulator in order to run through our algorithms, conduct tests and get ready for the launch. Now what I’m really excited about is actually seeing if all of our algorithms are actually functioning and working on real PACE data. Simulating data is not as much fun as the real stuff.

What is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is blue because it’s my son’s favorite color, too. Also, growing up by the seaside in the Mediterranean, I loved the blue color of the ocean and the sky above it, and I always wanted to understand why the ocean and sky are so blue. The blue sky comes from sunlight scattered by air molecules, creating a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering. Interestingly, that later became part of my work activities, which involves understanding the light in the atmosphere in order to correct for the different colors of the ocean below it.

A man wearing a dark shirt and a headset with a microphone attached in front of his mouth sits in the cockpit of a small airplane. He is seen from the shoulders up. The image is being taken from behind him, so he is turned around, smiling at the camera. In front of him are the controls of the plane including six circular gauges. Out of the front window of the plane is a gray sky.
Ibrahim is taking flying lessons in a small Cessna. Image Credit: Samantha Weltz

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I have a big interest in flying and have taken some flying lessons. One day, I’d love to be a pilot. Maybe when the dust settles from PACE, I’ll be able to go back and take more lessons or fly with an instrument to study the ocean from an airplane!


What advice would you give to aspiring scientists looking to get where you are today?

A man stands at the top of a small orange step ladder, centered in the image. He wears jeans, a dark colored jacket, and a yellow hard hat. He is standing next to a structure that is about the same height as him and has a scientific instrument on top of it. In the background of the image is a body of water, which is blue and still. The sky is cloudy and is a light blue and gray color.
Ibrahim is in the process of setting up a hyperspectral radiometry system in Long Island Sound for the purpose of validating satellite data. Credit: Robert Foster

The three most important things to me that got me into this position are being passionate and persistent about what I do, networking, and continuously learning. Being dedicated is very important, and if you hit obstacles, you can always get around them with dedication. Connect with various scientists and other people in the field in order to have a network of people who can support you in your career. And finally, as a scientist, you should never stop learning. You have to be humble enough to know that there are things that you don’t know. So, read papers and publications, write, engage with the community, and go to conferences. Those are all really critical things that can help you with your career.

What is a catch-all statement that you would want the public to know about PACE?

PACE will revolutionize our understanding of the ocean and the atmosphere for two reasons; One, PACE will have the first hyperspectral instrument dedicated for ocean color, which is quite unique and has never been done before. And two, it will have multi-angle polarimeters that will improve our understanding of aerosols and the ocean beyond any other instrument that is currently in space. It’s an interdisciplinary mission.

Header image caption: Ibrahim posing with PACE in the integration and testing facility at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Bridget Seegers Sails the Seas… and Studies Them Too!

Bridget Seegers is an oceanographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and a team member for NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission.

A woman stands slightly to the right of center of the image. She is wearing a black T-shirt and has a hat on. She looks to the left of the image, out in the distance. She is standing on a boat and is holding the steering wheel in her left hand and rope in her right hand. Behind her is the ocean, part of a harbor, and a blue sky with some clouds.
Bridget captaining her sailboat, Blissfully. That’s the boat name and she is quite blissful while sailing. Image Credit: Azul Gutierrez

What is your favorite atmosphere or ocean related book or movie?

“Life Aquatic” definitely comes to mind. It’s amazingly accurate in how it depicts certain aspects of life on a research vessel. For a book, there’s one called “The Long Way” by Bernard Moitessier. It’s about him sailing solo in a race around the world, way back in the day (1968), which is very interesting.

What is your research about?

I focus on harmful algal blooms. There are a lot of little, teeny organisms called phytoplankton in the ocean and lakes, and sometimes they grow into huge numbers, and we call that a bloom. That can be good because it feeds the food web, but sometimes it can be toxic and cause problems. People monitor those harmful events to reduce human exposure to any of the harmful toxins. I use satellites to monitor for these harmful events and help water quality managers respond to them.

A woman with curly blonde hair stands in the image seen from the knees up wearing black pants and a navy blue T-shirt with the words "PACE Launch Team" written on it. She is holding her right hand up in a "thumbs up" motion. Behind her and in the right side of the image are tall structures of a launch pad. A rocket is attached to one of the tall structures, the PACE logo printed at the top of it. The sky behind the launch pad and the woman is a gray blue color, filled with clouds.
Bridget with PACE ready for launch on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. Image Credit: Bridget Seegers

What was your favorite part of watching the launch?

The PACE team, friends, and families being together sharing all the excitement, hugs, and emotions was my favorite part of launch. It was incredible watching the rocket light up the night as PACE began its journey to space! And, of course, fantastic to hear updates throughout launch and since that all is well with PACE and the instruments. All wonderful experiences!

What are you most looking forward to post-launch?

The data and exactly what we can do with it. There’s been a lot of talks and hopes of what this data will be like, but there’s never been a satellite like PACE. We can imagine all these products, but it’ll be great to see what we actually can do with the products. If we can tell one type of phytoplankton from another, we can hopefully tell some of the more harmful ones from ones that are just average members of the phytoplankton community that aren’t causing problems.

We know that OCI on PACE is going to be able to look at all the colors of the ocean, so what is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is purple. Why? I don’t know, it just feels right.

Centered in the image is an aquatic creature - a Christmas tree worm. The magenta colored creature is in a spiral shape, spiraling upwards, where the diameter gets smaller as it rises - looking like the shape of a Christmas tree. Towards the center of the spiral, the color changes to a pale mint green.
Christmas Tree worms from a reef in Rangiora from when Bridget was sailing there. Image Credit: Rory Moore

Do you have a favorite type of phytoplankton or sea creature?

I think my favorite sea creature would be Christmas tree worms. They live on coral reefs and they like pop out and they look like an evergreen tree. They come in all these different colors. When you get close, they like pull themselves in, but then they pop back up. They’re really fun and colorful, and they’re kind of interactive. For phytoplankton, there are a variety of species that bioluminesce and I think that’s pretty magical when you see the ocean light up at night, either with breaking waves or running your hands through it.

A woman stands on a pale pink surfboard, riding in a wave. She wears a black wet suit which covers her legs, torso, and arms. Her hair is wet. She is facing the right of the image, while traveling towards the left. The water she is surfing on is a dark gray color, with a white wave break behind her. The sky is cloudy and gray.
Bridget on her surfboard named Purple Rain catching a little wave and waving to a friend on a gray July day along the Southern California coast. Image Credit: Matt Marbach

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I like to sail. I had a friend who solo circumnavigated the globe, so I met him to sail in a variety of places like around French Polynesia, around nearly half of South Africa, and north of the Arctic Circle in this chain of islands called the Lofoten Islands. I was also able to surf north of the Arctic Circle from the sailboat!

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists who are looking to get where you are today?

A woman and two children are seen in the picture. The woman, with blonde curly hair, is to the left of the image, wearing a gray shirt with a NASA meatball logo on it. In the middle is a young girl wearing a purple shirt that says, "I want to be a princess and a physicist" with planets surrounding the words. To the right is a young boy with blond hair who wears a gray T-shirt with the NASA worm logo on it. He is reaching forward and holding a microscope.
Bridget with Chloe and Luca at a San Diego elementary school. They are prepping a plankton sample to view on the microscope. Image Credit: Isa Tavera.

Stay curious and be motivated by asking questions. Follow what interests you and what you’re passionate about. It’s not always a direct path and science can be a little bit tedious, so it’s really important to trust yourself and to pursue things that are interesting to you. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to chat with other scientists. Sometimes people think scientists are intimidating, but we’re mostly pretty nice and slightly awkward, so I would have those conversations!

What is one catch-all statement describing the importance of PACE?

Knowledge is power. For both PACE and science in general, the more information we have the better we understand things, and the more able we are to respond to the changing planet in an effective and meaningful way that empowers us.

Header image caption: Bridget with the PACE observatory. Image Credit: Dennis Henry 

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Trivia All About NASA’s Next Earth-Observing Satellite

I’ll take “All About PACE” for 300, please.

While not exactly like “Jeopardy!”, PACE trivia is just as fun – and often as challenging! To prepare for the upcoming launch of the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite, PACE team members, friends and family gathered on Feb. 4 for an afternoon of facts, food, and fun at the Tiny Turtle restaurant in Cocoa Beach.

Two children stand in the foreground of the image facing away from the camera. They are looking at a screen in front of them. To their right is a woman with blue and purple hair pointing to the screen. On the screen are several blurry blobs - phytoplankton - which are being displayed from the microscope, seen between the heads of the two children.
Ivona Cetinić, an oceanographer at the Ocean Ecology Lab at NASA Goddard, pointed out phytoplankton during the hands-on-experiment portion of the event. The phytoplankton, found in a lake earlier in the day, were projected onto the screen from under a microscope. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Erica McNamee

The excitement in the atmosphere was palpable – everyone talking animatedly among themselves. The crowd quieted down, however, to see Bridget Seegers, oceanographer for PACE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, start the hands-on activities scheduled for the event. She and other PACE team members peered into a microscope, showing live phytoplankton and zooplankton that are invisible to the human eye.

She demonstrated how chlorophyll, a molecule found in phytoplankton that gives them their green color, fluoresces in red light. This led into a discussion about satellite remote sensing and how people see light in comparison to how satellites measure it.

Seegers and co-trivia-host Andy Sayer, PACE’s project science lead for the atmosphere, explained how PACE is going to help scientists learn more about the ocean, aerosols, and clouds. They encouraged the crowd to listen carefully – they dropped helpful hints for the trivia questions to come.

This led into what the crowd had all been waiting for: a friendly competition of trivia. Split into teams, the crowd went through a series of 36 fun questions all related to PACE in some way. It ranged from questions familiar to the crowd of scientists and engineers, like “What color does chlorophyll fluoresce?” (answer: red) to some more obscure questions like “How big was the shark from ‘Jaws’?” (answer: 25 feet long).

Four woman are around a table - one standing and three sitting. They are all looking down at pieces of white paper with handwriting on them, pencils in hand for grading. There are other objects, glasses, cups, menus, on the table as well. In the background of the image is a window to the outside, which has a building and a brick road on it.
Seegers and her team of graders checked off correct trivia answers. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Erica McNamee

It was a competitive crowd and a smart one too, answering some difficult questions about Earth, PACE, and even moons far out into the solar system. Points were tallied, but Seegers stressed that everyone walked away as a winner, having learned more about the mission and gathered together for a fun event.

Header Image Caption: Bridget Seegers and Andy Sayer presenting about phytoplankton and aerosols before the trivia questions began at the Tiny Turtle. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Erica McNamee

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Natasha Sadoff Connects PACE Data to Benefit Society

Natasha Sadoff is the deputy coordinator for the applications program and PACE.

What is your favorite ocean or atmosphere related book or movie?

Probably “The Little Mermaid.” It’s a whole other world with the wildlife (and mermaids) in their own kingdom, so it just makes the ocean very magical.

The picture is taken from below the water, looking upwards at a woman who is floating facedown. She is wearing a black wetsuit and has a blue floating device around her waist. She is signaling two "okay" signs to the camera. The bottom third of the image shows the rocky reef, and is a dark brown color with some light blue reflections of the water on it. The middle third of the image shows the deep blue of the open water in the background. The top third of the image is still underwater, but is closer to the surface, so reflections of the light blue sky are distorted and rippling.
Before a conference in Australia, Natasha took a two-day snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef! “It was one of the most incredible things I’ve done,” she said. Credit: Natasha Sadoff

What is your background?

I’m a social scientist and a geographer, and I have a broad background in environmental management. I think about the information and data that environmental managers might need, and how to translate data from a satellite in a way that makes it more usable and actionable for them. Part of my job is to serve as a liaison between the scientists and data managers working on PACE and the community of users that will put the data to use – and make sure that PACE data will be accessible, usable, and actionable for the community.

What are you most looking forward to during launch?

The energy at launch is just going to be crazy, with everybody who’s worked so hard for nearly two decades getting together. We’ll be happy once it’s in the air and in space and getting data, but when we’re at launch, it’s out of our hands. So, it’s a time to celebrate and be together and be excited.

I’m also excited because it’s a nighttime launch, scheduled for 1:30 in the morning, so I think that adds a neat air to it because it’s going to be so beautiful with the night sky. I’ve seen some photographs of other missions getting launched at night and it just seems like the visuals will be magnified in the middle of the night.

We know that OCI is going to be looking at all the different colors of the rainbow with its hyperspectral abilities. What is your favorite color and why?

I like the richness and depth of the blues and the purples. It makes me think of the nighttime or space!

The image is centered on a woman riding a brown horse that has black hair. The woman wears a black jacket and riding pants and also has on a helmet. The horse appears to be in movement, cantering, with its tail swishing, and is facing the right side of the image. The ground they are riding on is a dirt pasture, and behind them lies a grove of green trees with green grass below it.
In her free time, Natasha rides and trains her horse, Elena, and compete locally in dressage shows. Credit: Austen Gage

What is a fun fact about yourself that not a lot of people might know about?

I have a horse and so most nights and weekends I am riding and training and working with my horse. Her name is Elena and she’s sassy. You know when people have a pet and it’s like their son, their daughter? People joke that Elena is my sister because she’s so opinionated and very stubborn. So, we have kind of a love/hate relationship in our training. She teaches me patience and resilience every day!

A woman stands in front of a set of nine screens, which together show an image of part of the Earth, with the PACE logo above it. She is wearing a black dress and holds a microphone. The woman is facing a group of people who have their backs to the camera and are watching the woman present.
For PACE Applications, Natasha regularly gives presentations and talks to audiences of all kinds about PACE science and applied uses of the data. In this presentation, she was talking to engineering students in Singapore. Credit: Natasha Sadoff

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists who are looking to get where you are today?

There’s not a linear path, and there doesn’t have to be a linear path. I know a few of us who don’t have the traditional science PhD background love to say this: There’s a role for everybody at NASA. Whether you’re in communications and marketing or whether you’re in science, or whether you’re somewhere in between (which is kind of like me), there’s a role for you at NASA. While STEM is obviously huge and critical and we need more women and we need more minorities in STEM, we also need people in the social sciences. STEM is only as good as our ability to communicate about it and talk to people about it.

Header image caption: Before the PACE observatory left for Kennedy, Natasha had the opportunity to get into a “bunny-suit” and experience what it was like to enter the PACE clean room! Credit: Denny Henry

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Jeremy Werdell is the PACE Mission Scientific Conscience

Jeremy Werdell is the project scientist for the PACE mission as well as a biological oceanographer in the Ocean Ecology Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

What is your favorite ocean- or atmosphere-related book or movie?

“Jaws!” And it’s not close. “Jaws.” Best movie, without question, ever made.

What are you most looking forward to on the night of launch?

The operation of the spacecraft and instruments. I am going to be an absolute nervous wreck the entire time and it won’t be until systems engineering and project management tell me that everything is okay and that the fun is now going to begin that I will finally breathe easy. So, yeah, the transition from “holy crap” to “it’s all working!”

A man stands on the right side of the image seen from the shoulders up. He is wearing a white clean suite that covers over his head and forehead as well as a white mask that covers his nose and mouth. Behind him and to the left in the image is a spacecraft, PACE. Several parts of the spacecraft are covered in a silver-colored foil-like material. The room that the man and the spacecraft are in has very large ceilings which are seen in the background of the selfie.
Jeremy Werdell wearing in a “bunny suit” or cleanroom suit to get up close and personal with the PACE observatory. Credit: Jeremy Werdell/NASA

What are you most looking forward to after the night of launch?

Watching the energy emerge within and across our communities. I’m enjoying taking on the role of making sure the mission is as good as it can be so that it’s something our community can grow into. It is a gift from NASA and the government and community that preceded me to this next generation of scientists that can and will do something amazing.

The Ocean Color Intrument (OCI) on PACE is going to to show us colors of the ocean in a hyperspectral range, which is like using a box of 256 crayons instead of the previous boxes of 8 colored crayons. So, of all the colors in the large crayon box, what is your favorite color and why?

Green, and specifically the wavelength 532 nanometers. That exact green, for two reasons: One, for some weird reason, my family, including my wife, all jibe with green. Two, when I first started a master’s degree at the University of Connecticut, I was learning how to use a spectrophotometer and my advisor, Collin, pointed out a green beam within it and said “532 nanometers, it’s a beautiful color.” That has always stuck with me.

A man wearing a black hoodie takes a selfie. In front of him is a loaf of light tan, freshly baked bread, which takes up the entire length of the image, left to right. The bread is resting on a cooling rack.
Jeremy’s latest loaf of bread, fresh from the oven. Credit: Jeremy Werdell

What’s a fun fact about yourself that not a lot of people might know about you?

I tell almost anybody who will listen that I’d rather be a professional chef than a scientist. In fact, I even have a chef’s knife tattoo now.

I’ll cook anything. I use cooking as therapy – my mental health improves by just standing in the kitchen after work. My wife and I started cooking as a couple when we first had kids because we weren’t leaving the house as often.  But, eventually I kind of just elbowed everybody else out of the kitchen and spent most of my time there.

What is some advice that you would give to aspiring scientists that are looking to be where you are today?

Three things. The one thing that I think got me to where I am within Goddard was the opportunity when I was early in my career to spend a lot of time writing papers and interacting with the science community, including organizing workshops. I had a lot of latitude to get out and about, above and beyond my day-to-day activities.  I found that writing and external engagements to be very good ways to get the community to know me.

A man stands in the image upon a stage. The black stage takes up a majority of the bottom half of the image. The man holds a microphone and is looking to the right in the image, out to the audience. Behind him to the right is a bright red curtain, and to the left is a projected image of a presentation, which is on a slide that is mostly blue and purple in color.
Werdell presenting PACE and NASA Earth Science at Nerd Nite in San Francisco several weeks ago. Credit: Jennifer Werdell

The second thing, which I tell any early career scientist that will listen, is to serve on as many research panels for NASA headquarters as you can. It’s very empowering to sit on the other side of the table and digest the evaluation side of the process. What you learn from doing this really improves the quality of the proposals that you write and, whether anyone likes it or not, being successful in “proposal land” does have its advantages in terms of career advancement.

Third, public speaking. Spend as much time getting out of your comfort zone and talking to anybody who will listen in front of any stage. I can’t stress this enough. Start when you’re in high school. I know most kids hate standing in front of the audience, but you will be so much better at what you do if you can do this. Even if you’re not good at it, don’t fret, just keep at it and find some comfort with it. Eventually the quality will come.

What is one catch-all statement that you would say describing the importance of PACE?

All citizens of the Earth should realize everything is connected: land, ocean, and atmosphere. PACE is NASA’s next great investment in the combined studies of all these aspects of the Earth’s system. With its capabilities, there’s so much scientific growth that will be accomplished, which makes PACE incredibly important to how we understand what we’re doing to our home planet.

A man wearing a blue T-shirt with a spaceship printed on it, takes a selfie, taking up the right side of the image. He is sitting at a table at a restaurant with a plate of food in front of him. In the background of the image is a white boat with one man sitting on it. It is floating in a harbor, the water calm and blue.
Jeremy took a quiet moment with all of his favorite things – food, water, sunshine. Credit: Jeremy Werdell

Header image caption: Enjoying the PACE scale model on display at SRON in the Netherlands. Credit: Jeremy Werdell/NASA

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Setting the Stage for PACE at AGU

After years of planning, building, and testing, 2024 is the PACE mission’s time to shine: Launch is slated for February and the team is eagerly awaiting a wealth of ocean- and atmosphere-related data to dig into soon after.

Several PACE scientists closed out 2023 by sharing this enthusiasm for the mission at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting December 11-15 in San Francisco, which drew more than 24,000 Earth and space scientists.

“This is such a profound quantum leap forward in terms of our ability to monitor our home planet,” Jeremy Werdell, PACE project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told a group gathered in front of NASA’s hyperwall screens.

A man wearing glasses, a dark polo shirt, khakis and a nametag on a lanyard stands in front of a large display made of nine screens combined into one. On the screen is a visual showing PACE study areas, labelled on a schematic of the ocean, atmosphere and terrestrial ecosystems.
PACE project scientist Jeremy Werdell outlines diverse areas of study that data from the mission could help answer questions for, at the NASA exhibit booth at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco, Dec. 12, 2023. Image credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

He showed a visualization highlighting Earth’s pulsing phytoplankton blooms, masses of aerosols drifting across oceans, ice sheets retreating, and more. It’s 20 years of our home planet breathing, Werdell said. Insights like these about Earth are one of NASA’s key accomplishments, he said, right up there with landing on the Moon.

In the conference’s poster hall, researchers presented their work to get ready for using the data. Amir Ibrahim, an ocean scientist with NASA Goddard, talked to colleagues about a tool he is using to simulate the data that the team will receive once PACE’s Ocean Color Instrument is up and running in orbit.

“We’re here to interact with the community who will use the data, and share with them the great capabilities OCI will offer across various disciplines,” Ibrahim said, standing in front of a poster filled with data visualizations and charts.

Data from PACE will touch on many aspects of the interconnected Earth system, including air quality and water quality, Natasha Sadoff, PACE applications deputy coordinator, told the audience at a presentation later that day. With aerosol products from the mission, people can help improve health advisories for wildfire smoke. Other data products will help notify resource managers of harmful algal blooms, wetland health indicators, or even oil spills and seeps.

A woman in a light-colored blazer stands behind a podium on a dais, giving a presentation. On the right side of the image, a screen shows a colorful visualization of Earth, with concentrations of different types of phytoplankton in the oceans represented with different colors. In the foreground of the image are the backs of attendees’ heads.
Natasha Sadoff, PACE applications deputy coordinator, speaks before a crowd of Earth and space scientists at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco, on Dec. 11, 2023. Image credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

She showed a global map of the locations of mission Early Adopters, people who are working with the mission ahead of launch to figure out how to use the satellite data to help address different questions across a wide range of disciplines. PACE will generate a new world of data, Sadoff said, and the mission welcomes others interested in exploring it.

“We’re always looking for new community members,” she said.

Header image caption: At a December 2023 conference, scientists presented findings about what the PACE mission and its instruments could accomplish after launch, scheduled for Feb. 6, 2023. Image credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

By Kate Ramsayer, Strategic Communications Lead for Earth Science Missions at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Otto Hasekamp Helps Scientists See Light in a New Light

Otto Hasekamp is a senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) and is the science lead for the SPEXOne polarimeter that will be on PACE.

What is your favorite atmospheric or oceanic related book or movie?

It’s not a book, but my favorite bit of writing about the atmosphere is actually a review article from 1974 – the year I was born! – on light scattering by atmospheric particles. It’s something that I’ve come back to through my whole career. It was written by Jim Hansen and Larry Travis from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and is sort of the cornerstone for polarimetry.

What are you most looking forward to during launch?

I’m really excited to see the satellite go up and then get the notification that everything has gone right with the satellite. It will really be a relief, and I’m looking forward to that green light.

What are you most looking forward to post-launch?

The commissioning phase where we check all the measurements and the instrument will be an exciting and intense period. I’m really looking forward to the first measurements of SPEXOne. On the somewhat longer term I look forward for our team to first real science results, that improve our understanding of aerosols and clouds.

What is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is blue. Why? Well, of course when the sky is really clear it shows up very blue and I think that’s a great thing to look at.

A man stands centered in the image and can be seen from the waist up. He is wearing a black winter coat. Behind him, also centered in the image, is a large wooden pole. There are wires coming off of the pole. In the background of the image, the sky is bright blue, but is covered by some white fluffy clouds. Near the bottom of the image in the background, a mountainous green landscape can be seen far below where the man is standing.
Otto Hasekamp at the Berger Kogel, Austria, September 2023. Courtesy of Otto Hasekamp

Do you have a favorite type of cloud or atmospheric phenomenon?

The very, very thick clouds when there’s a thunderstorm coming that are sort of scary to see. It gives a special atmosphere.

What’s a fun fact about yourself, something that people might not know about you?

I like hiking in the mountains. Every year, for 25 years, I go hiking in the mountains with friends of mine and we hope to continue to do that for a long time. I’ve also crossed the Arctic Circle.

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists who are looking to get to where you are today?

Persist. Accept that things go slowly but persist and you will get where you want to be. I think that is maybe the most important one. Keep in mind the impacts of what you do, that’s another important one.

What is one catch-all statement describing the importance of SPEXOne?

It will help the understanding of the cooling effect that fine particulate matter has on the climate.

Header image caption: Otto Hasekamp presenting SPEXone at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) conference, Washington, D.C., October 2019. Courtesy of Otto Hasekamp

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Gary Davis Leads His Team Through Engineering Feats

Gary Davis is the mission systems engineer for PACE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

What is your favorite ocean or atmospheric related book or movie?

I don’t know if it’s classified as a book, but I do like the Edgar Allan Poe story “A Descent Into the Maelstrom.” My favorite ocean movie? I really liked the movie “Master and Commander.” It’s not really an ocean movie, but a lot of it takes place on sailing ships, and they do have a naturalist in that movie who researches plants, insects, and other creatures.

What is your background?

I went to engineering school at the University of Virginia, got a bachelor’s degree in aerospace there, and then went to Princeton and got a master’s in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Essentially right out of school, I came to Goddard. I started off in the propulsion branch, and I worked on the TRMM mission – Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission – and then the MAP mission – Microwave Anisotropy Probe. That’s a mouthful. Then I worked on the Solar Dynamics Observatory, I worked on the MMS mission – Magnetospheric Multiscale, another mouthful – and then OSIRIS-REx and now PACE.

A man, seen from his shoulders up, takes up a majority of the picture. He is wearing a white clean suit which covers over his head, and also a white mask that covers his nose and mouth. He has glasses on. Behind him is the PACE spacecraft which is very large and covered in wires and other metallic materials.
Gary with PACE Observatory in SCA Cleanroom. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

What is your role in PACE?

For PACE, I’m the mission systems engineer, so I’m the chief engineer on the project. I have a great team working with me to hopefully make sure it all works.

What are you most looking forward to during launch?

I am most looking forward to the moment when we get the telemetry that the spacecraft is alive and is stable and pointing the solar arrays at the sun. That’s the most critical part for us, is to make sure that the spacecraft has survived the rigors of launch, and that it knows what to do and is pointed in the right direction. So that’s a huge first step for us.

And once that’s all clear, what are you most looking forward to post-launch?

I want to see that first picture. The instrument folks call it first light, and I’m just really excited to see what PACE’s instruments can do. We’ve been testing them on the ground for all these years, but they’re not looking at anything really, just the laser light that we shine in or the ceiling of the cleanroom. When the Ocean Color Instrument is able to see the ocean and the polarimeters see the aerosols in the atmosphere, it will be amazing to get that first image.

Since OCI will be looking at all these different colors of the ocean, what is your favorite color and why?

That’s an easy one. My favorite color is British Racing Green and the reason why is I’m a Formula One fan and my favorite team (though they don’t race anymore) is Lotus. Way back in the day, most of their cars were painted British Racing Green, so I’ve always loved that color. It’s a dark green, and it’s very fast.

Four men stand in a picture. All four are holding trombones in their hands. From left to right, the second man is Gary Davis. He wears a light blue long-sleeved button up shirt and has protective headphones around his neck. The men he is standing next to are all wearing military uniforms with red jackets, white belts, and black pants.
Gary with U.S. Marine Band Trombone Section. Learn more here. Image Credit: U.S. Marine Band

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers who want to someday work on NASA satellites?

The obvious answer that a lot of people give is “study this science or study that math or take that engineering class” and I kind of go in the opposite direction. For folks who want to work on NASA projects in science or engineering, they’re probably already very strong in science and engineering, so they don’t need any more of that. My advice would be to study and be trained as much as possible in human skills, leadership, team-building, and how to work as part of a team. Especially in today’s world, with so many virtual ways to communicate, your team might not be co-located with you. The better communication skills you have and the better you can get an entire team to work efficiently with you, that means a lot. For any big project, you need multiple people, and even with great people, nobody can do it by themselves – you need a whole team.

What’s a fun fact about yourself, something that a lot of people might not know?

Three men stand in the picture. All are holding euphoniums in their hands. From left to right, Gary is the third man in the picture. He is wearing a red sweater and has a red Santa hat on. The man in the middle also wears a red sweater and has a green holiday had on. The man to the left is wearing a military outfit with a red jacket and black pants. They are standing in a large auditorium and wreaths can be seen hanging in the background.
Gary with other double bell friends at Tubachristmas Kennedy Center. Image Credit: A nice Tuba Player

I’m a trombone player, amateur. I did buy a euphonium so I can play it once a year in Tubachristmas, which is super fun because we get to play the melody which you don’t usually get as a low brass player. So, for one night a year, I’m like a quasi-tuba player and it’s really fun.



What’s one catch-all statement describing the importance of PACE?

PACE is going to teach us answers about the ocean that we haven’t even been able to ask the questions for yet. It’s going to show us stuff that we don’t even know that we don’t know yet.

Header image caption: Gary with PACE Observatory during PACE Family Day. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Kirk Knobelspiesse Keeps His Eyes on the Skies

Kirk Knobelspiesse is an atmospheric scientist and the project science team polarimeter lead for PACE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He is also the polarimeter instrument scientist for the Atmosphere Observing System (AOS) constellation.

A man stands centered in the image standing straight with his arms held out on either side of him. He is standing on a tan sand dune. The sky behind him is a light blue and gray color.
Kirk Knobelspiesse hiking sand dunes near Swakopmund, Namibia, during the ORACLEs field campaign. Image Credit: Michal Segal-Rozenhaimer

What is your favorite atmospheric or ocean related book or movie?

There was a series on Netflix called “Connected” that had an episode called “Dust.” The general idea is that everything in the world is connected, so it started with dust that was generated in the Sahara Desert, specifically the Bodélé Depression. And that dust – which is really from a dry lakebed – gets lofted into the atmosphere and goes out over the oceans, and in the process interacts with clouds and potentially fertilizes the ocean. That dust makes it all the way to the Amazon basin where it may also be an important source of nutrients.

What is your background?

I am a photographer who got really into imaging of all kinds, which led me to remote sensing. I ended up doing work on remote sensing of Earth from space and worked on SeaWiFs, which was an early ocean color mission. I decided I need to go back to grad school and get a more quantitative education, so I got an applied math degree at Columbia University.

What are you most looking forward to during launch?

Earlier in my career I worked on a satellite that had a launch failure (Glory in 2011). So, during launch, I am going to shut myself in a closet and not learn any news until somebody tells me it’s all over. Because it makes me so nervous. A lot of people want to go and see the launch and that kind of thing. Not me, I’m going to stay away. Somebody will tell me when it’s all over.

What are you most looking forward to post-launch?

A man is sitting at a desk in an office. He is facing the camera and appears to be taking a selfie. He takes up the right side of the image. The left side of the image shows a computer screen and a water bottle, which the man is holding. In the background, the office door, a coat rack, and part of a whiteboard can be seen.
Kirk Knobelspiesse in his office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Image Credit: Kirk Knobelspiesse

I have a list of all the Science and Nature papers we’re hoping to write with PACE data. It’s ambitious, a little bit. But there are new types of observations that we will be making, that no other satellite will have done so far, at least not at a global scale. One aspect I’m interested in is just exploring the data, looking for basic things that will be useful for our understanding of aerosols and clouds and the climate in general.

I have some pet projects that I’ve always been interested in, for example a specific situation when aerosols are lofted above clouds. Aerosols are generally something that cools the climate because they reflect light. But if you have, say, a dark smoke aerosol on top of the cloud, it actually warms the climate, because it absorbs some of the energy that would have otherwise been reflected into space. So that’s something we’ll be able to do with PACE that we don’t really have great observations of now.

What is your favorite color and why?

I have a 10-year-old daughter, and favorite colors are very important to her and her friends. They’re always asking me what my favorite color is, and I say I can never answer them because how can you like one color without liking all the others?

Do you have a favorite type of cloud or weird atmospheric phenomena?

There’s also an optical phenomenon called glory. If you’re floating above a cloud and the Sun is behind, you look down at your shadow and you will see your shadow with a glory around it, which is like a circular rainbow around yourself. That’s one of my favorite optical phenomena.

What’s a fun fact about yourself? Something that a lot of people might not know about you?

A man takes up the left side of the image. He is walking towards the camera. He wears a neon yellow vest and is holding onto a large, green gas canister, which is rolling behind him. In the background of the image, a large plane sits on a runway with the nose of the plane facing the left of the image and the tail of the plane, featuring a NASA logo, on the right side. The plane has a stairway connected to the door.
Kirk Knobelspiesse working on the NASA P-3 during the ORACLES field campaign in São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe. Image Credit: Andrzej Wasilewski

I’ve been to latitude zero, longitude zero, the point in the South Atlantic Ocean where the equator and prime meridian intersect. It was part of the ORACLES field campaign. There’s nothing special there. It’s just ocean – and I don’t mean to offend my oceanographer friends by saying it’s nothing special – but there was no pillar of fire or something like that.

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists looking to get where you are today?

Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one discipline or one topic of study. Not just computer science or physics or oceanography. They’re human constructs, sociological constructs, and they don’t have anything to do with nature, other than how we have organized ourselves. A lot of where I’ve found interesting and productive things to do have been at the boundary between disciplines, or learning from one discipline and applying that approach to another discipline. So, don’t tell yourself, “I can’t do something because I’m not trained to do that.” You can learn and you can train yourself, and don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and do something you don’t really know how to do.

What is one catch-all statement describing the importance of PACE?

We will be making use of things that people cannot see – the nature of light – to understand things that we can’t otherwise observe.

Header image caption: Kirk Knobelspiesse hiking at Rachel Carson Conservation Park in Brookeville, Md. Image Credit: Barbara Balestra 

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The Journey of a Carbon Atom: From Space, NASA’s PACE Mission Detects Carbon in the Sky, Land, and Sea

Whether in plants or animals, greenhouse gases or smoke, carbon atoms exist in various compounds as they move through a multitude of pathways within Earth’s system. That’s why NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission – scheduled to launch in January 2024 – was designed to peer down at Earth from space to see those many forms of carbon in a way no other satellite has done before by measuring colors not yet seen from the vantage point of space.

“PACE is standing on the shoulders of some giants, but previous and current satellites are limited in how many colors of the rainbow they can actually see,” said Jeremy Werdell, project scientist for the PACE mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Although one of the primary goals of the mission is to measure the colors on the ocean surface, in the 420 miles (676.5 kilometers) between PACE in orbit and sea level are parts of the complex carbon web that the satellite will also be able to monitor.

The connection between major wildfires and the subsequent explosion of phytoplankton production is an example of the events NASA’s upcoming Plankton, Aerosols, Clouds, and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission will help investigate. PACE’s suite of instruments will allow scientists to get a clearer picture of carbon as it links land use and fires, atmospheric aerosols and marine communities. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center


From PACE’s location in space, one of the nearest forms of carbon to detect could be the wispy plumes of smoke and ash rising into the atmosphere from fires. Carbon is a key building block of much life on Earth, including plant life. When burned, the vegetation’s carbon-based molecules transform into other compounds, some of which end up as ash in these plumes.

The instruments on PACE will be able to monitor these smoky clouds, as well as other atmospheric aerosol particles, measuring their characteristics including the relative amount of smoke in different places. Combinations of these measurements made by PACE’s two companion polarimeter instruments, SPEXone and the Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter-2 (HARP2), and the detailed color measurements of the smoke made by the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI) will also help scientists identify what was burnt.

“Each instrument brings something different,” said Andy Sayer, PACE’s project science lead for atmospheres at NASA Goddard. “Putting them all together though, you’re getting the most information.” Sayer is also a senior research scientist for the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

These measurements help scientists understand more about the balance between the incoming energy from the Sun, the outgoing energy from Earth, and where it may be absorbed in between by things in the atmosphere like these smoke plumes. Even at a local level, PACE can provide information about how smoke affects air quality, impacting communities that may be near fires.


Peering through the smoke particles and other aerosols, PACE can also tell us about the health of terrestrial plants and trees. Even after a devastating wildfire, fresh green plant life begins to grow and thrive. With more spectral bands and colors to see from the upcoming satellite, scientists will be able to understand what kinds of plants are recovering from fires over the years.

“In a time where we’re experiencing unprecedented climate change, we need to be able to understand how global vegetation responds to its environment,” said Fred Huemmrich, research associate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a member of the PACE science and applications team.

PACE will be able to monitor the different shades of colors in vegetation, and plant color can be an indicator of health. Just as house plants begin to fade to yellow if they haven’t been watered enough, plant life around the globe changes color as it experiences stress. Healthy plants take up carbon in the form of carbon dioxide as part of photosynthesis, while unhealthy plants that can’t complete photosynthesis leave the carbon dioxide roaming around the atmosphere. Given that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, these measurements also play a significant role in understanding climate change in greater detail.

By measuring a full spectrum of color, PACE will view tiny changes in pigment to detect how plants are responding to stressors, helping scientists learn whether they are utilizing the surrounding carbon or not. Previously, these colors were primarily viewed in field studies of specific areas. Stressors like droughts were inferred using weather data, but covering large expanses was difficult.

“For the first time, we’ll really be able to look at changes in the health of plants over the globe,” Huemmrich said. “It will dramatically improve our understanding of how ecosystems function and how they respond to stress.”


From plants on land to organisms in the ocean, PACE will view the expanses of water on Earth to measure phytoplankton – the P in its name. With its ability to measure a wide spectrum of colors, PACE will now not only be able to see more across the surface of the ocean but will also help scientists differentiate between phytoplankton species.

“It’s like you were making a painting with really coarse brushes, and now you have thin, fine brushes that help explain so much more in greater detail,” said Ivona Cetinić, an oceanographer in the Ocean Ecology Lab at NASA Goddard.

Phytoplankton, small organisms that live on the surface of the ocean, play a critical role in the food chain and the global carbon cycle. Each type of phytoplankton provides a different pathway in that expansive web of routes that carbon can take, all depending on the characteristics of the plankton. One pathway may lead to the carbon becoming food for a larger species, while another may lead to carbon becoming waste, sinking deeper into the ocean.

Scientists conducting field work have found that types of phytoplankton vary slightly in color and have identified these phytoplankton on small scales. PACE’s ability to measure a full spectrum of color will help scientists tell the difference between phytoplankton on a global scale by seeing more of these colors, deepening the understanding of carbon pathways and quantities.

Though one of PACE’s key goals is to view the ocean, its line of sight looks over the atmosphere and land as well. With these expansive observations, and the massive quantities of data collected, PACE provides the ability to see in what ways the atmosphere, land, and ocean are connected, including with the complex web of carbon pathways. 

“I’m energized for this opportunity for discovery that this observatory is offering,” Werdell said. “I have every expectation the world is going to do great things with these data.”

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center