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Young Scientist Honored for Innovations in Satellite Data

By Lauren Monsen | Staff Writer | 28 March 2012
Young man in pinstriped jacket and tie, with office in background (NOAA/Courtesy of Jianlong Zhang)

Chinese-born scientist Jianglong Zhang will receive the NOAA David S. Johnson Award, which honors young scientists for their innovative use of environmental satellite data.

Washington — Jianglong Zhang, an award-winning meteorologist and atmospheric scientist, is being honored March 30 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), cementing his status as one of the most decorated young scientists in the United States.

NOAA, a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is presenting Zhang with the NOAA David S. Johnson Award, which recognizes young scientists for their innovative use of environmental satellite data. First presented in 1999, the award is named after the first assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service and honors professional scientists who create new uses for observational satellite data to better predict atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial conditions.

Zhang, a native of central China who holds the position of assistant professor in atmospheric sciences at the University of North Dakota, was cited for developing new techniques that use satellite measurements to forecast the potential climate implications of aerosol particles in the atmosphere.

In a March 9 interview with Elizabeth Howell at The Graduate School of the University of North Dakota, Zhang described how aerosols affect cloud formation and influence climate change.

“Climate change is a well-known topic to the public,” he said. “Yet many may not be aware that the climate system is complex, with various factors interacting with each other. The effect of aerosols is one of the most important and least understood factors.”

By making clouds brighter, which ensures that clouds reflect more sunlight back into space, increased aerosol concentrations “can result in less sunlight reaching the ground” and thereby reduce surface temperatures, said Zhang.

There are clear environmental benefits to reducing aerosols in the atmosphere, he added.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, for example, coal was widely used for winter heating in London. “Large quantities of smoke were generated from coal burning,” Zhang said. “Smoke particles, sulfate aerosols and other gaseous constituents, mixing with the local metrological conditions, formed a famous historical phenomenon called ‘London fog.’ Not until the ‘great smog’ of 1952 that killed more than 4,000 people did the Londoners realize the seriousness of the problem. A clean-air act was passed in 1956.”

Aerosols are “different from greenhouse gases,” said Zhang. “The high spatial and temporal variations of aerosol properties make aerosol studies, including aerosol and climate research efforts, very interesting yet difficult tasks.”

Besides establishing new uses for environmental satellite data, Zhang led the development of the world’s first operational aerosol assimilation system, which is being used by the U.S. Navy Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center.

In 2009, Zhang received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers as one of America’s top 100 young scientists. He received both his doctorate in atmospheric science and his Master of Science in computer science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2004, and his Bachelor of Science in atmospheric physics from Peking University in 1992.

The NOAA award “highlights the exemplary work young scientists like Dr. Zhang are performing with satellite data" that directly benefits society, said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. “We are excited about the work he’s already done and all that lies ahead.”

Read about the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers on the White House website.