Watching from Above - WAY Above! (CAREER SPOTLIGHT)

Tim Schmit Photo
GOES East Satellite Imagery


GOES-East satellite (combining the GOES cloud information on a color background map from another satellite).

GOES East Satellite Imagery

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, as seen from the GOES-12 Imager. This is a 'water vapor' image, where the white colors are clouds and moisture, while the darker colors represent warmer/drier regions.

Hurricane Katrina



GOES-R Satellite


Tim Schmit
Research Satellite Meteorologist
NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites

My name is Tim Schmit, and I do research and help weather forecasters make the best use of the information available from environmental satellites. Specifically, I work with the Advanced Satellite Products Branch, which is part of the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service Center for Satellite Applications and Research. We are operated by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and located in Madison, Wisconsin. NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service operates the nation's civilian environmental (weather) satellites.

My interest in remote sensing started with my dad, who helped to design some of the first infrared sensors in the world. When I was in 7th grade, I decided to get a master's degree in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. And that's exactly what I did—a bit later!

Sometimes I think I have the best job in the world. A favorite part of my job is when we are the first to check out a certain aspect of imagery from a new satellite. The initial images are always exciting, since they demonstrate the many components of the satellite that are working together.

NOAA keeps two satellites in geostationary orbit, each in a spot approximately 22,000 miles (about 36,000 km) from the Earth's equator. This position, which is stationary with respect to the ground below, allows the satellites, known as Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), to keep watch over the Western Hemisphere and parts of the Southern Hemisphere. But, before these satellites can be used operationally, they need satellite research meteorologists to make sure everything is working properly and to help convert the satellite data into meteorological information that can be used for important weather forecasts and warnings that can save lives.

I'm sure you have seen GOES "infrared" images on your local TV station, such as images of hurricanes approaching the U.S. The GOES are not only used for weather applications for the nation, but also for space weather, oceanography, hazards, climate monitoring, data collection, and search and rescue applications. These satellites are so important because they can monitor huge areas of our hemisphere that are not monitored in other ways. It's amazing how our natural environment can be monitored in such detail from a satellite located a tenth of the way to the moon!

The GOES series is developed by a joint National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-NOAA-Industry partnership, launched by NASA (with industry partners) and operated by NOAA.

While the current generation of GOES gets the job done, the next generation will be far superior!

The GOES-R Series is the next generation of NOAA geostationary Earth observing systems. The Advanced Baseline Imager will provide much more information with higher resolution and faster coverage than the current system. With 60 times more data available, GOES-R will improve the monitoring of storms and natural hazards such has volcanic ash clouds or fires.

The most exciting part of the new imager will be the rapid-scan images. We will be able to see animations of events such as hurricanes, lake effect snows, convection, fires and more over various small regions of interest every one minute! We will be able to watch the phenomena almost as they happen, not just at the 15- or 30-minute intervals that we have today.

When I started working on GOES-R in 1999, the Advanced Baseline Imager had only eight proposed spectral bands, but a host of requirements from the National Weather Service. I was able to get eight more bands added to the instrument, so that the sensor is going to be much more capable and fulfill more of the National weather Service's needs. GOES-R is currently scheduled for launch in late 2015.

I am proud that we have been able to use our satellites to improve monitoring of hurricanes and other storms. I am proud of our whole group, including researchers from the government and universities, the private sector (to build the instruments and help send out the information), and, of course, NASA and NOAA to integrate and operate the satellites. I can't wait until the next generation offers even better monitoring!