Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

U-M to lead $151.7 million NASA hurricane prediction project

Improving hurricane and extreme-weather prediction is the goal of a new $151.7 million NASA satellite project led by U-M, NASA has announced.

The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) will make accurate measurements of ocean surface winds throughout the life cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. It's a constellation of small satellites that will be carried to orbit on a single launch vehicle.

"The system will allow us to probe the inner core of hurricanes in greater detail to understand their rapid intensification for the first time," says Christopher Ruf, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, and electrical engineering and computer sciences. Ruf is principal investigator on this project.

"This will allow us to observe and understand the complete life cycle of storms and, thereby, understand the thermodynamics and radiation that drive their evolution. Our goal is a fundamental improvement in hurricane forecasting."

The CYGNSS data will enable scientists, for the first time, to probe key air-sea interaction processes that take place near the core of the storms, which are rapidly changing and play large roles in the genesis and intensification of hurricanes. The CYGNSS measurements also may provide information to the hurricane forecast community.

Once in orbit, CYGNSS's eight micro-satellite observatories will receive direct and reflected signals from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The direct signals pinpoint CYGNSS observatory positions, while the reflected signals respond to ocean surface roughness, from which wind speed is retrieved.

"The CYGNSS mission is both a scientific and a programmatic advance for NASA's Earth science and applications program," say John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "CYGNSS will provide vital science data on tropical cyclones, and the CYGNSS team will advance our ability to obtain high-quality Earth science data through smaller, more affordable space systems."

The CYGNSS science team includes Aaron Ridley and Derek Posselt, both professors of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, plus leading tropical cyclone theorists, modelers and satellite data assimilation specialists, and many of the founding developers of GPS-based ocean remote sensing.