Dr. Josefino C. Comiso: the Filipino polar explorer

The melting of the Arctic sea ice has been an undeniable sign of climate change for the past thirty years. The phenomenon has a severe impact on the Arctic region to the south given the interconnected system of the Earth. It has caused faster global warming, sea level rise and extreme natural disasters in recent years.

Undeniably, the study of the polar regions has become increasingly critical to understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change.

For polar studies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the world’s pioneer in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics, turns to tropical-born Filipino scientist Dr. Josefino C. Comiso, one of the world’s foremost experts in polar science. .

Dr. Josefino C. Comiso delivering his keynote address at the 4th Scientific Meeting organized by the Remote Sensing Product Development Component (Project 5) of the PHL-Microsat program on July 20, 2017.

Dr. Josefino C. Comiso delivering his keynote address at the 4th Scientific Meeting organized by the Remote Sensing Product Development Component (Project 5) of the PHL-Microsat program on July 20, 2017.

Originally from Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, Dr. Comiso earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of the Philippines (UP) and was immediately offered a job at the Philippine Atomic Research Center. He then taught at UP and then traveled to the United States in 1964 to pursue a master’s degree at Florida State University. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1972 from the University of California where he became an assistant research physicist. He moved to the University of Virginia in 1973 for a post-doctoral position.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Comiso heard of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s growing program on climate change. He began working indirectly at NASA as a senior consultant to the Computer Science Corporation, then was hired as a physicist in NASA’s Earth Science Branch, which was then involved in the study of processes of climate change. At NASA, he studies global climate and environmental changes in the polar regions and sea ice, as observed from space using remote sensing techniques.

Dr. Comiso began working with other scientists on a project that used data from the Nimbus-5 satellite. This resulted in the first Antarctic and Arctic Sea Ice Atlases. He also undertook considerable independent research, including the creation in the 1980s of an algorithm for sea ice concentration calculations, which he later developed. This algorithm is currently used by NASA and the Japan Aeronautical Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and other similar organizations to gather satellite climate datasets on sea ice.

To further validate his algorithm studies, Dr. Comiso conducted fieldwork in the Antarctic and Arctic regions, Alaska and Greenland. He notably participated in the first winter cruise to Antarctica in 1986 aboard the RV Polarstern which studied the Weddell Polynya (or Weddell Sea polynya, a polynya or irregular area of ​​open water surrounded by sea ice). sea ​​in the Weddell Sea of ​​the Southern Ocean off Antarctica and near Maud Rise) and provided the first opportunity for marine and physical oceanographers to fill knowledge gaps about the region.

Since then, he has served as principal investigator or chief scientist on successive science cruises and air missions in the Arctic and Antarctica, including a flight over a nuclear submarine near the North Pole.

Using satellite data on sea ice, Dr. Comiso published a groundbreaking study in 2002 showing that permanent sea ice in the Arctic was shrinking at a much faster rate. The following year, he observed that the temperature in the Arctic was rising three times faster than before, mainly due to ice-albedo feedback. Ice-albedo feedback is a positive feedback climate process where a change in the area of ​​ice caps, glaciers, and sea ice alters a planet’s albedo and surface temperature.

These landmark discoveries signified great scientific and societal significance and impact. They said sea ice cover in the Arctic was rapidly shrinking and that less ice meant further warming and disruption to global climate patterns. His findings have reinforced the urgency of studying the Arctic sea ice and led to greater recognition of the vulnerability of the Arctic and the certainty of climate change in the region.

Dr. Comiso shares his keynote address on climate change impacts and mitigation strategies for the energy sector at the European Access to Sustainable Energy Program (ASEP) expert symposium on renewable energy and climate change on June 22, 2018 in Dusit Thani Manila, Makati City.

Dr. Comiso shares his keynote address on climate change impacts and mitigation strategies for the energy sector at the European Access to Sustainable Energy Program (ASEP) expert symposium on renewable energy and climate change on June 22, 2018 in Dusit Thani Manila, Makati City.

Dr. Comiso has also expanded his work on sea ice to look at other climate variables such as phytoplankton concentrations and land, ice and ocean surface temperatures. He then wrote the book “Polar Oceans from Space” which provided valuable information on the current state of the polar environment and the processes that govern the Earth’s climate system.

Dr. Comiso’s study of sea ice, global climate, and environmental change has resulted in approximately 143 published articles, eight books (authored or co-authored), and 22 chapters in other books. His articles are frequently and highly cited, with a total of over 28,507 citations. He has been a member of the editorial team of several journals and book publications and of several committees and panels related to scientific and international projects such as the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won half of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and 2013 IPCC report, considered one of the most reliable documents on climate change.

Recognition of the scientific merit of Dr. Comiso’s studies is evident in the numerous journal articles, international and local speaking engagements, and extensive television and radio coverage of his work.

Dr. Comiso believes it is important to return to the Philippines and share knowledge that could help improve the country. For many years, he has been an active participant in the Balik Scientist Program (BSP) of the Department of Science and Technology. Leveraging his background as a NASA scientist, he has tirelessly shared his expertise in using satellite data to address pressing national concerns over climate and environmental change through various seminars and conferences at multiple institutions. from the country. He collaborated closely with local scientists and enabled joint publications of scholarly books and book chapters, and mentored and inspired many young Filipino scientists to follow his example and pursue various research activities on climate change and the environment.

Dr. Comiso popularized remote sensing technology by helping to establish the Philippine Remote Sensing Society. He was instrumental in developing the remote sensing algorithms for application in the Philippine scenario. He also played a vital role in helping the Philippines become a space-efficient nation by providing valuable contributions to the mission definition of the country’s DIWATA-1, DIWATA-2 and MULA satellites. With the establishment of the Philippine Space Agency, he shares his expertise and guidance as the agency develops its national space program.

For his achievements, Dr. Comiso received the “NASA in Science Exceptional Achievement Medal”, the highest honor given to its own scientist by NASA. He has also received other NASA accolades, including the “NASA Career Achievement Award”, “NASA Group Achievement Awards”, “NASA Performance of Special Awards”, and “NASA Special Act Awards”.

His other notable accolades include the “PAASE Hall of Fame Award” (Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering); “NASA Hydrosphere, Biosphere and Geophysics Division Best Paper Award”; “Balik Science Program Award”; “PAASE Hall of Honor”; “MARQUIS Who’s Who A Lifetime Achiever”; election as a corresponding member of the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines; “2007 IPCC Peace Prize”; “UPAA Award for Excellence in Science and Technology” (UP Alumni Association); “Father Burgos Award of Excellence”; “Narvacaneo’s Outstanding Achievement in Science”; “PhilDevUSA Award for Excellence in Science and Engineering”; “Congress Citation to Senate PH for Work on Climate Change”; “Outstanding Achievement Award from the Pan-Ocean Remote Sensing Conference”; “UP’s Most Distinguished Alumnus”; “Circle of 20 Outstanding Filipino-American Leaders”; “PAASE Founder’s Lecture Award for Science”; and “Filipino Image Magazine’s 20 Outstanding Filipino-Americans”.

Dr. Comiso continues to work as a Senior Research Scientist Emeritus at NASA and is Professor Emeritus at UP, researching reforestation and deforestation, drought vulnerability and trends; and environmental pollution monitoring in lakes and watersheds in the Philippines.

By conferring the Pamana ng Pilipino Award on Dr. Josefino C. Comiso, the President recognizes his pioneering achievements in polar science, which have significantly influenced the global understanding of the sea ice region and climate change, and for his commitment and contributions invaluable in facilitating knowledge. and the transfer of technology to the homeland, which has increased the country’s space and environmental science capabilities.

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