UNL graduate student receives NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship

Released on 08/05/2009, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., August 5th, 2009 —
David Peterson
David Peterson

University of Nebraska-Lincoln geosciences graduate student David Peterson has received a prestigious $90,000 NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship, which will fund three years of doctoral research.

Peterson, who will finish his master's degree in meteorology this fall, studies the causes of wildfires in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. He will continue his research as a doctoral student, using satellite images provided by NASA to study fires caused by dry lightning strikes, in an effort to improve overall forecasting of fire weather.

"Using the NASA data, I get a much better view of where fires are," Peterson said. "If you don't have a satellite, all you have is someone making reports from the ground. Particularly in remote areas, some fires could be missed. Satellites give a better representation of where the fires are. Using this kind of satellite data is relatively new, and very cutting edge."

Originally from Schererville, Ind., Peterson pursued an undergraduate degree in meteorology at Valparaiso University because he was fascinated by storms. He logged several summers as a storm chaser before accepting a spot in UNL's graduate program. Although he always assumed he would have a career in forecasting, courses at UNL piqued his interest in remote sensing and the use of satellites for assessing weather patterns. He spent summer 2008 at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where he began his thesis research.

"Fires are a really big deal these days," said Jun Wang, assistant professor of geosciences and Peterson's adviser. "Every week, if we turn on the TV there are reports of fires causing damage. Fires emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and carbon monoxide, a pollutant. They affect the clouds, the air we breath, and even visibility on the highway. How can we monitor the fires in a timely fashion, and how can we forecast the potential danger of the fire? David's research is going to provide this valuable information."

The highly competitive NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships are available in earth science, heliophysics, planetary science and astrophysics. This year, 98 proposals were selected for funding from a pool of 439 applicants.

"NASA wants to train the next generation of scientists that is capable of working for them," Wang said. "Many places are interested in this type of research. By the time David graduates he is going to be a young star shining brightly in our field."

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