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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
Wading In: Studying Earth's Oceans
March 16, 2004

Jorge Vasquez Article courtesy of JPL

When a friend asked Jorge Vazquez to speak eight years ago to a group of high school students about his job and Earth science, the JPL oceanographer reluctantly said yes. "I didn't think I'd like it." he says. Vazquez was right. He didn't like it: he loved it. Word got out, and before he knew it, he was getting calls from high school and junior high school teachers throughout the area. "I think they have some kind of network," he jokes.

Since that first talk, Vazquez has given countless presentations to students and has become very active in youth programs for the service group Rotary International. This coming spring, he'll be stepping into a classroom again to talk to students, this time not as a guest speaker, but as the professor of a college class teaching Earth science to future teachers.

When he's not teaching Earth science, Vazquez will be practicing it at JPL, where he has been part of the ocean sciences' group for 20 years. "Here at the Lab, I wear two hats," says Vazquez. "The first is as task scientist for the Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center."

Here at JPL, we archive and send out data that describes the physical state of the ocean, Vazquez says. "Wind measurements tell you about the forcing of the ocean--the currents. Sea level, or ocean surface topography measured by altimetry, shows you where heat is stored in the ocean. Sea surface temperature gives you a good idea about how heat moves from the ocean to the atmosphere."

"As task scientist, I serve as a liaison between the science community and the center," Vazquez says. "I organize the user working group, the advisory board that decides what kinds of data we want to have and plans for the future, including the kind of technology we want to use. For example, in the old days we sent data out on 9-track tape, now our goal is to make everything electronic."

Vazquez's second hat is research. "My own research involves trying to improve the quality of sea surface temperature data," he says. "The temperature of the ocean is a major indicator of climate change. The ocean remembers things a lot longer than the atmosphere does," says Vazquez. "But to use sea surface temperature to track climate change, you need to be able to measure temperature to within one tenth of one degree over a ten-year period. Creating good climate records is one of NASA's goals."

Vazquez decided on a career in oceanography while he was an undergraduate at the University of Miami. "I had originally intended to study medicine, but biology class convinced me that this was not my calling," he says. "Perhaps it was that first dissection."

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Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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