Chelle Gentemann

2013 Charles S. Falkenberg Award Winner

Chelle L. Gentemann received the 2013 Charles S. Falkenberg Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors a “scientist under 45 years of age who has contributed to the quality of life, economic opportunities, and stewardship of the planet through the use of Earth science information and to the public awareness of the importance of understanding our planet.”


Dr. Chelle Gentemann is a worthy recipient of the Charles S. Falkenberg Award. Through her leadership at both national and international levels, Chelle has contributed significantly to improving the accuracy, accessibility, and utility of satellite­derived fields of sea surface temperature (SST) for a wide range of applications, including numerical weather forecasting, operational oceanography, and climate research.

Dr. Gentemann, a scientist at Remote Sensing Systems in Santa Rosa, California, has become an acknowledged leader in the field of remote sensing of SST, in both the microwave and infrared. In addition to assessing and improving the accuracies of the satellite SST retrievals, she has also studied the thermal properties and behavior of the upper ocean. She was one of the first to analyze SSTs derived from microwave radiometers (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Microwave Imager (TMI)) to study diurnal heating and cooling of the upper ocean. Later, she developed a model of upper ocean diurnal thermal structure that more closely simulates observed characteristics. This is important as the accumulation of the daily residuals of the diurnal heating cycle, either positive or negative, is what gives us the seasonal cycle of heat in the upper ocean and, on longer time scales, the climatological heating (or cooling) of the oceans. Another application of Chelle’s research in diurnal heating and cooling is in the accurate merging of satellite SSTs taken at different times of day. Without a sound physical basis, the merging of satellite retrievals would cause damaging bias errors that would compromise the use of time series of SSTs in climate research. Indeed, without good models of diurnal heating and cooling, the “climate data record” of satellite­derived SSTs will not be realized.

Chelle’s contributions include leading a very successful National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) project entitled “Multi­sensor Improved Sea Surface Temperature,” which received the 2008 Excellence in Partnering Award. She now leads a follow-on NOPP project with an even larger and more diverse set of principal investigators. This project has unified the distribution of SSTs via a common format and location. The ease of access has resulted in an increase in usage of satellite SSTs. She also plays a leadership role in the Group for High Resolution SST (GHRSST) program; one of the major achievements of GHRSST has been in coordinating the research of many groups around the world.

Chelle has contributed to the dissemination of satellite data for wide outreach to the broader community, including multiple contributions to the Earth Observatory, which is an online resource for NASA Earth sciences that includes newsworthy geophysical events and feature articles, as well as provides global data sets for online browsing. She has also contributed material for video and still imagery for many educational and outreach activities.

Chelle’s dedication not only has produced tangible results now but will continue to contribute to progress in the field and to improved understanding of the role of the oceans in the climate system well into the future.

—PETER J. MINNETT, University of Miami, Miami, Fla.


Receiving the 2013 Charles S. Falkenberg Award of the American Geophysical Union came completely as a surprise, wonderful but humbling. It is attributable to those who have made my work possible. Peter Minnett is first on the list. He is a great friend and colleague, an example for us all of how to conduct scientific research. Unstintingly generous with his time, resources, and ideas, he always puts scientific advancement ahead of personal gain. Eric Lindstrom, program manager for NASA’s physical oceanography program, has been a role model on how to run large projects and still stay focused on scientific results. His support of this project from the beginning has been instrumental in its success. I also have been lucky enough to work with Frank Wentz, one of the smartest scientists I know. My husband, David White, has put up with much as I have focused on this work, as have our 3-year-old sons, Austin and Bennett. The rest of my family has given their support, love, and inspiration. I wish that my grandfather, who encouraged my interest in science, could be here to share this honor.

The provision of data in a common format may seem trivial, but each data product has an established history and user base. Inertia can inhibit innovation. Only 10 years ago, sea surface temperature (SST) was being measured by a number of different satellites and distributed in various formats with different data distribution policies. Most operational weather organizations used a single SST as input for their models, leaving them vulnerable if that data source ended unexpectedly due to instrument failure. Scientists who wanted to work with SST were forced to search out various products, often with minimal documentation, staged at many different locations.

This award is for work accomplished by the Group for High Resolution Sea Surface Temperature (GHRSST). The group undertook getting all the different SST data providers to agree to a single data format and estimate retrieval uncertainty. Now the NASA Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center (PO.DAAC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) provide SST data from numerous satellites all in the same format. This improved access has improved our ability to understand air-sea interactions, ocean variability, and climate, as well as to predict weather using a significantly more accurate initialization field. Now most operational organizations regularly ingest three or more independent SST products providing enhanced stability and accuracy for their ocean and atmospheric predictions.

The U.S. GHRSST SST project is supported by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), which was set up to encourage interagency collaboration on research projects. In this case, NASA, NOAA, and the Office for Naval Research all committed funding to ensure that scientists from private industry, government, and academia could work together effectively toward a common goal. Interagency collaboration is always fraught with difficulties. This award should be seen to recognize that the participants in the project were committed to working as a team and such commitment makes triumph over obstacles possible.

—CHELLE L. GENTEMANN, Remote Sensing Systems, Santa Rosa, Calif.