Pioneers in Earth Climate Research

This spectacular ‘blue marble’ image is the most detailed true-colour image of the entire Earth to date…Much of the information contained in this image came from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board the Terra satellite. Visualization date: August 2, 2002. Credit: NASA’s Visible Earth catalogm. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli (land surface, shallow water, clouds). Enhancements by Robert Simmon (ocean color, compositing, 3D globes, animation). Data and technical support: MODIS Land Group; MODIS Science Data Support Team; MODIS Atmosphere Group; MODIS Ocean Group. Additional data: USGS EROS data Center (topography); USGS Terrestrial Remote Sensing Flagstaff Field Center (Antarctica); Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (city lights).

In the Pacific region for small island nations, the reality of climate change is ever present.  There is no argument for Pacific people about its reality when you are daily exposed to the environment and the Pacific Ocean.

If you’re new to the science, a good starting point is to learn more about the beginnings of climate and earth science research with NASA, rather than reading debates in the media about this topic. If you read further down, this page will expose you to these beginnings.

Climate change isn’t a new phenomena that began with the present generation. But it is happening at a faster pace than ever before and that poses real threats for our planet.

What is new is public awareness and people having a better understanding of climate change. But there are still plenty of skeptics and those who are completely confused by what is meant by climate change.

It’s fair to say that science has traditionally lacked the openness, willing and ability to communicate in everyday speak with nonscientific audiences, and media debates about climate change have not helped to increase understanding.   This page highlights the background of rigorous research and satellite data on climate and earth science from its first days.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) 

Since the 1960s, soon after the first American space missions were launched into outer space, NASA has been observing Earth from space. For more than 50 years, it has been watching and collecting data showing the big picture view of Earth. And the big picture from space since that time shows climate change and its ongoing impacts.

Our Earth is part of the solar system. It is the third planet from the sun and the fifth largest in the solar system.

NASA launched its very first weather observation satellite programme in April of 1960. The success of that early weather programme in space drew people’s attention to the importance of monitoring global weather conditions from space.

In the 1970s, NASA’s planetary exploration budget was drastically cut during President Nixon’s presidency, and that budget cut saw the agency’s observation of Earth escalate.  Today NASA invests more than a billion dollars a year in Earth science, watching our climate from space, with more than a dozen satellites in orbit around Planet Earth observing land, ice, atmosphere, oceans, and our global ecosystem.

NASA continues to launch new satellite missions with manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as scientists on the ground measuring storms, cyclones, melting ice to add to the big-picture view from outer space.

NASA’s space observations of Planet Earth provides robust scientific data which is needed to understand climate change. This data is made available to the world, the public, policy makers, legislators  and scientific, environmental and planning agencies around the world. Its job is to do rigorous science. NASA, however, makes it very clear that it is not in the job of promoting any particular climate policies.

NASA’s work documenting changes in the earth informs the work of governments and scientists around the world including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

February 2018
NASA announced a partnership with Conservation International, a nonprofit, to collaborate on two sustainable management projects – one on land ecosystems in Africa, the other on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.  NASA plans to bring its extensive powerhouse of satellite data and research to “create and test standardised analysis approaches that can then be applied to ecosystems around the world.”

“Space-based remote-sensing systems provide critical benefits, since they enable fine-scale, accurate measurements to be made over the entire globe,” – Woody Turner, NASA’s program manager for ecological forecasting in the Science Mission Directorate’s Earth Science Division.

The three-year collaboration between NASA and Conservation International will see NASA researchers “analyze and model remote-sensing data from the agency’s fleet of Earth-observing missions and commercial satellites, mapping ecosystems at regional and national scales. Satellite data, with its coverage of broad swaths of terrain, are critical for understanding the impacts of human activity on the environment.”

The long-term goal of the NASA-Conservation International collaboration is to develop decision-making tools and practices based on satellite observations of Earth that can be used worldwide.


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

In the late 1960s, NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, state of New Jersey in America, pioneered a computerised climate model of Earth’s climate.

The model, a breakthrough for climate science and weather forecasting, included the basic components of climatic elements: ocean, atmosphere, land and sea ice.  It allowed scientists to understand how the ocean and atmosphere processes interacted with each other to influence climate.

That pioneer model, still regarded as a breakthorough of major importance, forecast how changes in ocean and atmospheric currents and temperatures, the factors that control climate, could lead to climate change.

Scientists used this model to test for global warning for the first time. Their results, regarded as groundbreaking, were published in 1975.

Climate models are the primary means to estimate the effects of increasing greenhouse gases on future global climate.  – NOAA.

Climate models using mathematical equations to forecast how the planet’s climate will change in response to naturally occurring and, or, human-induced changes in greenhouse gases, atmospheric aerosols, and land cover, ocean circulation and clouds.

The scientists who were instrumental in the development of this first climate model:

Dr. Joseph Smagorinsky (1924-2005), meteorologist and founding director of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, was a pioneer in combining computers and mathematical models to make extended predictions of the weather and trends in the global climate. His work at NOAA profoundly influenced the practice of numerical weather prediction around the world. Climate models developed under his direction have led to greater understanding about humans’ capabilities to affect climate change.

Dr. Syukuro “Suki” Manabe (1931- ) spent the first 39 years of his professional career, from 1958 to 1997, affiliated with NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and its predecessors.  Under the direction of  Dr. Joseph Smagorinsky, by 1963 he was the first to develop a hemispheric model of atmospheric circulation.  He followed this up with collaborator Dr. Kirk Bryan with the first ocean-atmosphere coupled model in 1969 and in 1992 received the Blue Planet award followed in 1997 by the Volvo Foundation Environmental Prize for being the first to “explore the effects on climate of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion.”

Dr Stephen H. Schneider (February 11, 1945 – July 19, 2010)

As a PhD student at Columbia University in New York in the late 1960s, Steve came into contact with some of the world’s leading experts on climate. Wally Broecker, who at that time was helping establish the timing of the ice ages, lectured him on oceanography. A talk by Joe Smagorinsky from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who was establishing some of the first computer climate models with Suki Manabe, played on Steve’s childhood fascination with hurricanes. And when he took a seminar by Ichtiaque talking about planets’ atmospheres – why Mars was too cold, Venus too hot, and Earth just right – he was hooked. – andyextance, Simple Science.


The late Dr. Schneider was the Inaugural Visitor in the Zurich Financial Services Distinguished Visitors Program on Climate Change.

He was then the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, Professor of Biological Sciences, and a Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.

From 1973-1996 he served as a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, where he co-founded the Climate Project. His research focused on climate-change science, integrated assessment of ecological and economic impacts of human-induced climate change, and identifying viable climate policies and technological solutions.

He also consulted for federal agencies and White House staff in six administrations.

It is high likely that there are climate change pioneers who have yet to be discovered. If you know of one of them, please comment with their name and details on this page.