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Young Scientists Tackle Summer Work

Picture of two Hollings Scholars at NCEI in 2018
Courtesy of NOAA NCEI, Kaitlin Palubicki

Summer gives many young researchers time to immerse themselves in special projects, and NCEI hosts several budding scientists entering roles as the next generation of investigators, experts, and scholars.

This year, their projects within NCEI run the gamut from the relationship between clouds and climate to creating accurate geomagnetic models out of measurements from space. Hosted and mentored by NCEI scientists, more than a dozen young professionals study and work through the summer. Here’s a look at who they are and what they’re working on.

Hollings Scholars

The Hollings Scholarship Program, begun in 2005 and named in honor of former U.S. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, recognizes outstanding undergraduates studying in fields that support NOAA’s mission. Each year, more than 130 undergraduate students become Hollings Scholars and work on projects in many disciplines across NOAA locations.

At NCEI, our Hollings scholars include:

Allison Cosca-Baresh of UCLA (pictured above left): Allison will focus on analyzing a portion of the archived passive acoustic data collected through the Ocean Noise Reference Station Network. The goal will be to identify known marine mammal and fish calls, and apply a signal processing routine to extract a large-scale metric of the ocean soundscape. It will also result in the development of a story map focused on passive acoustic data and the archive.

Morgan Schneider of the University of Oklahoma (pictured above right): The goal of Morgan’s work is to determine whether it is possible to build accurate models of the geomagnetic field originating in Earth's core using scalar magnetic measurements made from space. This project supports a University of Colorado initiative to build and launch a constellation of CubeSats for observing the geomagnetic field. Morgan's task is to analyze space-based measurements of an ionospheric current system to pinpoint the location of the magnetic equator. She’ll use these measurements to build core field models.

Natalie Gibson of Juniata College: Natalie will explore the relationship between clouds and climate. She’ll work with the newly reprocessed satellite cloud climatology, called the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP). ISCCP can be used to understand how climatologies change with various climate modes, such as El Niño and La Niña. Her work will provide a clearer understanding of the cloud data as well as the impacts of clouds on climate.


In its fifth year, NCEI hosts several NASA DEVELOP participants who conduct rapid applied Earth science feasibility projects. Teams address a wide array of environmental and public policy issues by partnering with a diverse group of end users to conduct interdisciplinary research projects that apply the lens of Earth observations to community concerns around the globe. The collaboration is part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program.

This summer’s two teams are studying Central American coffee resiliency as well as the impact of invasive grasses in South Dakota due to climate factors. Each team works with regional collaborators. Along with a technical report and presentation, the teams must also each produce a short video of their project and its results. The members of the teams include:

Central American Agriculture & Food Security Team

Alexa Kennedy, recent graduate of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill: Alexa brings experience in county-level environmental research having created fire-risk assessment maps and studied land cover changes. She wants to broaden her skills at GIS, remote sensing, and report preparation.

Andrew Shannon, recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania: Andrew is a third-term DEVELOP participant with a Master’s of Science in applied geoscience. He plans to focus on technical research, project development, and science communication.

Danielle Curtis of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill: Danielle will use her skills at analyzing data and writing scientific papers and presentations. Her goal is to expand her skills at communicating complex scientific data for international policy- and decision-making.

Meghan Russell of the University of Tennessee–Knoxville: Meghan, whose main focus is geography combined with the study of climate, plans to focus on developing her skills related to collecting and analyzing scientific data, understanding remote sensing, and broadening her experience with GIS.

South Dakota Ecological Forecasting Team

Brooke Adams, a recent graduate of Texas A&M: With a Master’s of Science degree in atmospheric science, Brooke brings expertise in climate issues. She is interested in combining her knowledge of atmospheric and Earth sciences to applied science.

Conor Mulderrig of the University of North Carolina–Asheville: Conor’s emphasis has been the study of atmospheric science, climatology, and political science. His goal is to gain a working knowledge of the development of tools used by policymakers and the finer points of science communication.

Kane Cook, recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University: Kane holds a degree in geosciences and comes to DEVELOP with experience working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation. He will work on applying and expanding his knowledge of remote sensing.

Computing and Climate Data

Two additional scholars working with NCEI scientists this summer include:

Aarif Shaikh of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India: Aarif is working remotely through a Google Summer of Code (GSoC) sponsored project through the Earth Science Information Partnership (ESIP) to develop a scalable, accessible hydrological toolset library in Python, a high-level programming language. His work is based on the distributed workflow paradigm (Dask, Spark, Ephemeral) as an alternative to traditional high performance computing (HPC) methods.

Emily Pauline of the University of Georgia: For her Master's thesis, Emily will be developing an applied variant of the U.S. Climate Extremes Index (CEI) to relate climate extremes to social vulnerability. CEI compiles data on precipitation, drought, temperature, and tropical storms. Her goal is to learn more about CEI so that she may adapt it for her project. Emily will also work with scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites–North Carolina (CICS-NC) while at NCEI this summer.