Student spotlight: NDMC master’s student Mucia heads to Météo-France

Courtesy image
Courtesy image

Starting in November, National Drought Mitigation Center graduate research assistant Tony Mucia will be looking at remote-sensing data from a new vantage point on Earth.

“I am excited to announce that I have accepted a 3-year PhD position at Météo-France in Toulouse, France!” Mucia wrote on his Facebook feed last spring. “I will be working on assimilating satellite data into land surface models to forecast drought weeks or months in the future. Shout-out to President Macron for creating the ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’ program, which is funding this project. Now off to learn French.”

It’s a move Mucia couldn’t have imagined for himself when he started at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in electrical engineering. Rather than engineering, he soon found himself exploring meteorology, then climatology. The climate classes, partly because they gave him an opportunity to work with proxy datasets and satellites, became the focus of his work.

“I’ve been huge into space, satellites and rockets and stuff,” said Mucia. “So every time a new weather satellite like the GOES, GOES-R, GOES-S satellites have been launched, I’ve been following those for years up to the event and was explaining to my friends exactly how they get in to this orbit and all that type of stuff.”

Through undergraduate work at NDMC Mucia became involved in research on VegDRI and QuickDRI. Those projects eventually led him to graduate research related to NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission data.

“My master’s primarily focused on how this GRACE product captures drought severity and drought extent in the U.S., comparing GRACE data to other drought indices and other data,” he said.

Most recently at NDMC, Mucia was part of a team of researchers who developed a method to compare human observations of drought impacts with remote sensing data.

And how did that land him a job in France?

The opportunity Mucia seized had its origins in an initiative launched by French President Emmanuel Macron. In late 2017, Macron’s government launched the “Make Our Planet Great Again” program, an initiative to attract climate scientists to France that has received international media coverage. Selected researchers received funding from a $70 million grant pool, and received contracts lasting up to five years, according to the
Washington Post.

In early 2018, a second round of applicants, Ph.D. students, were sought for 93 MOPGA projects. Mucia applied to four projects, was interviewed for three, and selected for projects in Toulouse and Savoie Mont Blanc. Those projects then submitted Mucia’s name to the MOPGA office coordinating
assignments. Mucia begins his work at Météo-France, the French national meteorological service, in Toulouse on November 6.

Mucia said that he is excited to get started, and learn about what the specifics of the job will be.

"Météo-France has a specific land-surface model that they use globally that they are continuously working on. They’ve sent me several publications just in the last month on the analysis of how this model is doing, so that hopefully what I will be doing is assimilating certain datasets. I think it will be NDVI, and some greenness indices into the model as well meteorological forecasts for producing short-term outlooks and analyzing how well those
outputs performed, and using those to force the model and see what the outputs are, and then comparing those outputs to reality.”

As his departure date nears, Mucia is wrapping up what he considers to be this stage of his work with NDMC, but starting in 2020 he will see his NDMC colleagues again. At that time it will be at conferences in Europe, as a representative of Météo-France.

Courtesy National Drought Mitigation Center at SNR

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