Dr. Josefino Comiso: NASA’s Filipino Physicist
Josefino Comiso is a senior scientist at the Cryospheric Sciences Branch of the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. At Goddard, he co-authored the first satellite atlases on sea ice that revealed for the first time the true extent and spatial distribution of sea ice in the polar regions. He also generated the first detailed maps of surface temperatures in the polar regions as derived from thermal infrared satellite data.
His research led to new insights into many important processes in the polar regions. Those include the role of sensible and latent heat polynyas (“Polyna” is a Russian word meaning “an enclosed area of unfrozen water surrounded by ice”) and the Greenland Sea Odden on ocean convection and bottom water formation. The “Odden” is a large sea ice feature that forms in the east Greenland Sea that may protrude eastward to 5°E from the main sea ice pack (at about 8°W) between 73° and 77°N. It generally forms at the beginning of the winter season and can cover 300,000 km2 (115,800 sq. miles).
His research also includes the influence of sea ice on phytoplankton blooms and the warming signals revealed by sea ice in the polar oceans. He has been a member of satellite sensor teams and has developed algorithms for the retrieval of sea ice concentration, surface temperature, albedo, and clouds. He was the chief scientist in many NASA aircraft missions that included a flight over a nuclear submarine in the Arctic and has participated in many Antarctic field programs. In addition to the three sea ice atlases, he is the author or co-author of several book chapters and more than a hundred refereed journal articles.
He received his Masters Degree in Physics from Florida State University and Ph. D. in physics from the University of California in Los Angeles. He held a post-doctoral position at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and worked as a senior consultant for Computer Sciences Corporation before joining NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Highlights of research efforts by J. Comiso during the last 20 years:
1. He develped the Bookstrap Algorithm for the retrieval of sea ice parameters from satellite data that
is now being used worldwide and adapted for new satellite systems.
2. He made important contributions on studies of Polynyas and the Odden, including
a. the discovery of an theory behind the Cosmonaut Polynya;
b. the role of coastal polynyas in bottom water formation and thermohaline circulation in the Ocean;
c. new insights into the large Weddell and Maud Rise polynyas;
d. detailed characterization of the Ross Sea Polynya; and
e. the role of the Odden as one of 4 convection areas in the world’s ocean leading to deep
3. He has provided useful insights into the global climate change phenomenon with the discovery of:
a. an unexpected cooling in Antarctica during the last two decades;
b. hemispheric asymmetry in the trends of the sea ice cover;
c. Effects of El Nino in the Antarctic and a changing climate in the Bellingshausen Sea;
d. rapidly declining perennial ice cover; and an accelerated warming in the Arctic.
4. He is first to put together and analyze a long term and co-registered satellite data set on sea ice,
surface temperature, cloud statistics, and albedo in the polar regions. This data set is now used for
climate studies in many centers around the world.