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ICAS External Seminar: Serendipity in ESA EO Science

ICAS External Seminar: Serendipity in ESA EO Science

Date: Tuesday 20th February

Time: 14:00 to 15:00

Presenter: Mark Drinkwater, Head of the Earth and Mission Science Division European Space Agency, European Space Agency, European Space Research and Technology Centre, Noordwijk, Netherlands

Location: Civil Engineering LT A (1.10)

Abstract: A serendipitous discovery in science is often accidental, as its name implies. Most scientific experiments are initially conceived with the goal of testing a theory or verifying a hypothesis. Nonetheless, whilst performing experiments, along the way there are often unexpected discoveries that result from the application of instruments, techniques or methods adopted from other disciplines. 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have been fortunate in selecting, developing novel flagship satellite missions with world class instrumentation backed by world class teams of scientists. Many unexpected discoveries have arisen as a result, often transforming the scientific discipline or becoming operational. Consequently, many of the satellite missions ended up fulfilling a much broader role than the original intended mission.

The talk will illustrate some selected examples of serendipity in the area of satellite Earth Observation remote sensing science in which I have been scientifically engaged. I illustrate results from the beneficial use/misuse of: astronomical and medical imaging techniques in synthetic aperture radar and radiometer based missions; wind scatterometers for ice monitoring; accelerometry and gravity gradiometry for sub-surface exploration; radiometers as sub-surface sounders; and magnetometers as tide-gauges.

With an acceleration in the “New Space” philosophy of smaller, cheaper low risk satellite missions, this begs the question whether in future Earth Observation one can foresee the same probability of serendipity in remote sensing science. Are we reaching the end of an era in which similar such new discoveries can be expected from Earth Observing satellites? Or are we about to enter an era of new discovery.

Bio: Mark R. Drinkwater received a Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of Cambridge in 1987. After graduating he spent 14 years pioneering satellite remote sensing techniques in the Earth Sciences Division at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology. At JPL he led international collaborative scientific projects with US, European, Canadian and Japanese Space Agencies to support new satellite development programmes. During this period he led scientific research expeditions to both poles.

In 2000 he joined the European Space Agency’s Earth Observation Programmes Directorate at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA-ESTEC), Netherlands to lead the ocean and ice scientific activities. He supported the successful Envisat and MetOp satellite developments and was Mission Scientist for the successful GOCE, CryoSat, and SMOS Earth Explorer research missions, and Copernicus Sentinel-3. In 2007 he became Senior Advisor to the Director General of ESA on cryospheric science and related climate issues, and currently manages the Earth and Mission Science Division, from which Mission Scientist support and scientific guidance is provided throughout preparation and development of ESA’s Earth Observation missions.

Outside ESA Mark Chairs the WMO Polar Space Task Group, which coordinates activities of 15 international space agencies. He is also a Senior Advisor on the Instrumentation and Future Technologies Technical Committee of the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society.