Geographer Named Chief Scientist at NASA

Waleed Abdalati, associate professor of geography at the University of Colorado and Director of the Earth Science and Observation Center, has been named Chief Scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The two-year appointment began January 3, 2011.

According to NASA, “Abdalati will represent all of the scientific endeavors in the agency, ensuring they are aligned with and fulfill the administration’s science objectives. He will advocate for NASA science in the context of those broader government science agendas.”

Abdalati will serve as chief adviser to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden on matters relating to agency science programs, strategic planning and the evaluation of NASA’s current science investments. He will also work with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget.

Abdalati, whose research focuses on understanding changes in the Earth’s ice cover and what that means for the future of climate change, would seem to be a particularly timely choice as NASA’s Chief Scientist. A Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), Abdalati and his colleagues use satellite and airborne remote sensing techniques along with field observations and modeling to learn about ice sheets and high-latitude glaciers, their vulnerability to climate change and their contributions to sea-level rise.

Previously, Abdalati worked at NASA from 1998-2008, where he served as head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch of NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He also managed the Cryospheric Sciences Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He was presented with the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2004 and the NASA Agency Group Honor Award in 2003. He joined the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado in 2008. Abdalati earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Syracuse University in 1986. He later received master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Colorado.

Although Abdalati is the first geographer to hold this important post, it should be noted that many geographers have served NASA in key positions for decades and continue to do significant work throughout the space agency.

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[Source: AAG press release]