The Earth Sciences need women!

In the United States, men outnumber women in many science and engineering fields by nearly 3 to 1. In fields like physics or the geosciences, the gender gap can be even wider. Emily Fischer, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, is the lead investigator on a $1.7 million National Science Foundation grant to close that gap in the geosciences, which encompass mining and geology, atmospheric sciences, issues related to natural resource management, natural disaster forecasting, and oceanography. Developing a program Fischer and her team intend to bolster the number of female undergraduate students earning degrees in the geosciences or going on to graduate school in these fields. They are developing a program to be piloted on the Colorado Front Range and in the Carolinas. Team members include: Silvia Sara Canetto, CSU psychology professor; Paul R. Hernandez, professor of educational psychology at West Virginia University; Laura Sample McMeeking, associate director of CSU’s STEM Center; Rebecca Barnes, professor of environmental sciences at Colorado College; Sandra Clinton, professor of geography and earth sciences at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Manda Adams, a professor associated with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte who is currently on an appointment at NSF (working with the geoscience project team as part of her independent research and development program). Emily Fischer “We want to build the pipeline of female students entering the geosciences,” Fischer said. “Females are underrepresented in the geosciences – at about 16 percent of the workforce. That is the picture in my field too - women represent about 15 percent of atmospheric scientists. It’s even lower when you get into geology.” 2015 and beyond Starting in 2015, the team will recruit 50 first-year female students from CSU, the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the University of Wyoming to attend a workshop where they will learn about educational and career opportunities and meet peers with similar interests. The team will simultaneously recruit a cohort of students from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, Duke University, and the University of South Carolina. From there, the students will be mentored in person by local members of the Earth Science Women’s Network, a nonprofit organization. In addition, female students will have access to a web platform that will enable national-scale peer mentoring. “We are patterning this intervention after outreach programs that we know have been successful with advanced undergraduate and graduate-level women,” Fischer said. “We want to see if this can work with female undergraduate students and get more of them interested in pursuing careers in the geosciences.” Canetto, Hernandez, and Sample McMeeking also will evaluate the program’s effectiveness. The goal is to design an effective, inexpensive recruitment and retention program that can be a model for other universities. “There is evidence that mentoring seems to be an effective tool for women in various disciplines, but there is no scientific data for women in the geosciences,” Fischer said. “We want to collect real data from these students. We want to understand whether mentoring works for undergraduate women in the geosciences and exactly how beneficial these efforts could be.”

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CSU team helps NASA satellite watch Earth breathe

NASA recently launched its first satellite dedicated to measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide. Colorado State University scientists helped develop the algorithms that will crunch data collected by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite.

Chris O’Dell watched the launch of NASA’s first satellite dedicated to measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide through a thick California fog in the early morning hours on July 2, hoping this time, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory would actually begin orbiting.

An hour or so later he got word. “I’m so excited that the launch of OCO-2 was successful, and we can start collecting data and doing the science this mission was intended for,” said O’Dell, assistant professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who has been part of the mission for nearly a decade. A mission years in the making The July 2 launch was a long time coming for O’Dell and a team of researchers from CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science and Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere. O’Dell started working on the OCO mission as a post-doctoral researcher in 2005. He now leads the CSU team that helped develop the sophisticated algorithms that will crunch data collected by the satellite. [caption id="attachment_615" align="alignright" width="300"]CSU researchers have worked on the NASA OCO mission for several years. Pictured are Andrew Schuh and Igor Polonsky in the front row; David Baker, Robert Nelson, Chris O'Dell, Denis O'Briend and Tom Oda in the middle row; and Tommy Taylor in the back row. CSU researchers have worked on the NASA OCO mission for several years. Pictured are Andrew Schuh and Igor Polonsky in the front row; David Baker, Robert Nelson, Chris O'Dell, Denis O'Briend and Tom Oda in the middle row; and Tommy Taylor in the back row.[/caption] CSU researchers attended the launch of the original OCO satellite in February 2009 and were riding a bus back from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base when they learned that the mission had ended roughly 11 minutes after launch.

The nose cone of the rocket carrying the OCO satellite failed to separate, plunging the satellite back into the Earth’s atmosphere where it  burned up without ever reaching orbit.

Then, the launch of OCO-2 – a near replica of the original – was delayed a day after a water-based noise abatement system malfunctioned on the launch pad. “CSU has been working hard on this mission for many years now,” O’Dell said. “We’ve been involved with this mission from the original concept design process.” OCO-2 will provide scientists around the world with vital information about the amount of carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere and in natural “sinks” such as plants and oceans. A "missing piece"

Roughly 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere annually, which is the equivalent of every U.S. household putting out 40 bags of trash every week for a year.

About half of that stays in the atmosphere and the other half is absorbed by the earth’s oceans, as well as plants on land. What scientists want to understand - what the data collected by OCO-2 will help inform - is where those sinks of atmospheric CO2are located on the planet.  This information will help explain certain phenomena such as why Earth’s plants continue to accumulate greater and greater amounts of carbon dioxide, which indicates they are growing faster than they are dying. Some researchers theorize it’s because warming temperatures are extending growing seasons and enabling plants to grow in once-inhospitable places. Others believe it’s because the Earth’s flora and fauna are bathed in more CO2, a vital ingredient to plant growth. Whichever is the case, data collected by OCO-2 will help researchers determine where carbon dioxide is emitted and where it is taken up, which is considered a key “missing piece” of the climate story. “This information plays a huge role in our ability to predict future climate change,” O’Dell said. A clearer picture The OCO-2 satellite is expected to orbit the Earth for two years and will collect data at a higher resolution and with greater accuracy than has been previously possible. Until this month, the only satellite dedicated to collecting carbon dioxide data was the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite – or GOSAT – which was launched by the Japanese space agency in 2009. And while that data has provided new insight into these carbon dioxide sinks and sources, O’Dell said, it does not have the resolution or accuracy of OCO-2. OCO-2 is equipped with a suite of sensors that can quantify the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide down to about 1 part per million. It takes 24 measurements per second. OCO-2 also will be able measure the faint “glow” emitted by plants undergoing photosynthesis, which will further help to determine “how well and how fast plants are growing in a given area, or conversely if they are under stress and not growing well,” according to O’Dell. “It will give us a better picture of what is happening,” O’Dell added. “We tell people that this data will help us to understand, quite literally, how the Earth breathes.”

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