Taking pictures of clouds from space: A perspective on the advent and evolution of satellite observations

Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences
Weekly Colloquium

Thursday, March 5, 2020
4 pm in Harshbarger 206 ~ Refreshments at 3:45 pm hosted by HASSA

W. Paul Menzel
Senior Scientist, University of Wisconsin


This talk will touch on the events from the last 70 years. Early post-WWII rockets showed the potential for taking pictures from high altitudes. The International Geophysical Year 1957-58 started satellite observations of earth. Thereafter, the polar orbiting TIROS gave the first mosaic of the global cloud cover. With the advent of geostationary cameras in 1966, high temporal resolution animations of cloud motion were realized. ISCCP started with the imager data from POES and GOES. Now high spatial resolution images from MODIS, VIIRS, and ABI provide the benchmark for long range cloud studies.


W. Paul Menzel is a Senior Scientist at the University of Wisconsin where he is engaged in research and teaching classes in remote sensing of atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles, ozone, carbon dioxide, cloud properties, and surface properties. His current work is focused on inferring cloud property trends over the past three decades. In the classroom, he uses his own textbook, Remote Sensing Applications with Meteorological Satellites, which has been published as a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) technical document. Since 1989, he has been a member of the MODIS (Moderate resolution Imaging Spectrometer) science team, responsible for developing algorithms for the cloud mask, cloud properties, and atmospheric profiles. From 1999-2007, he was Chief Scientist for the Center for Satellite Applications and Research (formerly known as the Office of Research and Applications) in NOAA-NESDIS and was responsible for providing guidance on science issues and initiating major science programs for the Director of the Office. In 2007, Menzel was named a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society and that same year received a special award from the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites "in recognition of unremitting contributions to satellite remote sensing and exemplary leadership in the cooperation between the world's meteorological satellite operators."