UCI Professor Receives NASA?s Distinguished Public Service Award

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

05.16.05 -- UCI Distinguished Professor Soroosh Sorooshian was named the recipient of NASA’s 2005 Distinguished Public Service Medal.  This award is considered NASA’s highest honor for a non-government individual whose distinguished accomplishments have contributed substantially to the NASA mission.  Additionally, the contribution must be so extraordinary that other forms of recognition would be inadequate. Sorooshian received the award on April 27 during NASA’s annual award luncheon.

Soroosh Sorooshian
Soroosh Sorooshian

Sorooshian, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, holds a joint appointment as Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and Distinguished Professor of Earth Systems Science in the School of Physical Science at UC Irvine.

Although NASA does not release information relating to the selection of this award, Sorooshian believes he was selected for two possible reasons: his research contribution to NASA’s mission and his service in leading the Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment (GEWEX) of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

“I am extremely honored to be the beneficiary of this distinguished award,” said Sorooshian.  “It was particularly gratifying to be completely surprised that I was selected, learning that agencies such as NASA appreciate and recognize the service we provide to their mission and society.”

Since 1990, Sorooshian and his research group have been working to better understand the hydrologic cycle of arid and semi-arid regions though NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) program. The Earth Observing System (EOS) is the centerpiece of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (ESE). EOS enables an improved overall understanding of the earth as an integrated system. It is composed of a series of satellites, a science component, and a data system supporting a coordinated series of polar-orbiting and low inclination satellites for long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. The EOS Project Science Office (EOSPSO) is committed to bringing program information and resources to program scientists and the general public alike.

Sorooshian, along with Adjunct Professors Xiaogang Gao, Kuo-lin Hsu, and Bisher Imam, as well as a number of post-doctoral and graduate students, has been developing improved methods for measuring precipitation from satellites.  Remote sensing from these satellites provides the advantage of having a bird's-eye view of the earth and detecting characteristics of the earth’s environment beyond what the human eye can see. 

“Satellite remote sensing provides an opportunity to study the earth, such as a MRI or CAT scan can provide an opportunity to study the human body,” Sorooshian said.

Their findings have important implications for better understanding water balance over semi-arid areas, or areas that typically receive low annual rainfall, such as California.  This can help predict floods and droughts better, as well as the consequences of clearing vegetation or building in certain “dangerous” areas.

Sorooshian has also been serving on various NASA panels, advisory groups and reviews for over a decade. He is currently acting as the chair of the Science Steering Group of the GEWEX program, involving more than 13 scientists from the international community who are experts in the fields of water and energy cycles. This ambitious program, for which NASA provides major support, helps improve the understanding of the water cycle role in the earth’s climate, and also works to improve predictions of variations in rainfall patterns in different regions of the world.