Observer People

A head shot style image of a man.

Mr. Kristopher Bedka

Research Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center
"You don’t have to have a formal degree to be interested in and participate in science."

Where are you from? 
I am from Chicago, IL.

What do you do?  
My colleagues and I use satellite data collected by satellites in geostationary orbit and low-earth-orbit to study clouds. We process these data to learn about clouds. For example, we find answers to questions like:

  • How high and thick are the clouds?
  • Are their tops made of ice or water? 
  • How do they influence the Earth’s radiation balance?

One of my particular areas of expertise is studying the development of hazardous convective storms. We use satellite-based data to automatically detect areas where conditions such as hail, tornadoes, damaging winds, and/or aviation turbulence and icing are likely to occur.

I also do some educational outreach work as well. I visit schools to meet with students and tell them about what I do, my career path, and what it’s like working for NASA.

What missions are you involved in and how do they relate to GLOBE Observer?  
The closest connection would be the CERES mission, an instrument on Terra and Aqua as well as other satellites. Scientists need to have very detailed depictions of cloud cover to understand the energy exchange and balance on Earth. 

We use cloud observations from S’COOL, which is now part of GLOBE Observer, to understand the accuracy of our satellite-based identifications of clouds, cloud thickness and cloud height.  The human eye is the best at identifying when there are clouds above and how high they are. Satellites on the other hand are about 20,000 miles above the Earth. The GLOBE Observer data is a really nice resource to get the best validation we can. In fact, we just published a paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, showing how we can use the S’COOL cloud reports in our research.

What was your career path?  
All of my degrees have been in meteorology and atmospheric science. I went to Northern Illinois University and then on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I also attended school until I began working at their Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS). From there, I moved on to working at NASA Langley. 

Why is citizen science important to you?  
You don’t have to have a formal degree to be interested in and participate in science. Folks can go outside and look at the sky and understand the types of clouds that are there and begin to understand why they look the way they do at a particular time.

It’s also really great to have folks around the globe collecting data and contributing to scientific research.

What advice do you have for people just getting into citizen science?  
Find a formal program to hook onto. It’s difficult to download random data on the web and do data analysis on the weekend when the kids are sleeping. It’s nice to have the framework in front of you, so you can consider all that is important to the science community. GLOBE Observer does a nice job of teaching citizen scientists about the data they are collecting and makes it easy to collect and report meaningful data.

What do you do for fun? 
I like watching and playing sports. I also like gardening and landscaping. My art skills are about the equivalent of a first grader, so flowers and plants are a great type of art form for me. I also like cooking and eating all sorts of ethnic foods.

What inspires you? 
The desire to keep pushing forward and to understand things that others have never done before. In atmospheric science, you start looking at one area, working hard and researching it in depth, and then you realize you might be one of only five people who know what you know.  You meet top scientists in the field and it is interesting to connect with them and their research, and understand how they became the best of the best. Seeing other people work hard inspires me to work every bit as hard.

Any favorite quote(s) that you would like to share?
“Shoot for the moon and hope to get off the launching pad.” – Patrick Minnis, Recently Retired From NASA Langley