Dr. Dorothy Hall
By Teri West
Cryospheric scientist Dorothy Hall has been working with the intricacies of measuring snow and ice through satellite remote sensing for more than 40 years.
Snow keeps the earth cool by reflecting radiation from the sun before it can be absorbed by the earth. Tracking snow cover in polar regions allows scientists to observe changes in temperature, making it a good way to measure the scale and effects of climate change.
“It’s interesting to be involved with something as important as global change – being able to quantify it,” Hall said.
Hall attended the University of Maryland (UMD) for two stints in the 1970s, first as an undergraduate and then as a doctoral student, both times studying geography. The former senior scientist and associate lab chief at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) began her career in 1975, and now, after retiring from NASA and spending two years as adjunct faculty at Michigan State University, returns to UMD as an ESSIC visiting research scientist.
As part of her research methodology, Hall creates algorithms that utilize satellites to map global snow and sea ice cover. In the long run, she hopes to use the data to create a climate data record to document changes over time. A good climate record has at least 30 years of data, and her team is currently at 17.
Hall is also measuring the surface temperature of snow and ice with satellite data and has developed a record of that as well. As a part of that project, she currently tracks the Greenland Ice Sheet which covers most of Greenland and is melting at increased rates.
According to Hall, she enjoys the “nitty gritty” aspects of science that the research entails, such as evaluating the effectiveness of algorithms.
“Nothing is ever straightforward,” she said. “It always takes a lot of work to figure out what’s going on.”
She’s traveled to all the cold places you can think of in the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to Norway, catching the aurora on various occasions as a bonus to the research. She draws energy and inspiration from her dedicated colleagues.
“Equal to the science, if not more than the science, it’s the people who are just so interesting both at Goddard and here," Hall said. “It’s just a great thing to be around positive people who have a lot of energy and a lot of motivation and dedication.”