The NSSTC Planetary Science group is part of NSSTC's Earth and Planetary Science Unit. It currently includes two faculty, one postdoctoral fellow, one researcher, and two MSc students.

The focus of our research is on Mars' atmosphere, where we have expertise in planetary climate modelling, data assimilation, the dust cycle, and other physical processes relevant to Mars' lower atmosphere and climate. Alongside Mars, we have expertise in modelling giant planet atmospheres, geophysical fluid dynamics laboratory experiments, and visible and radar remote sensing.

We have ongoing international research projects with Oxford University in the UK, the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in Paris, France, the Space Science Institute in Boulder (CO), USA, and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter ACS instrument team. We are also in an ongoing exchange and research collaboration with Aeolis Research in Pasadena, CA, USA.

Research topics

This work focuses on developing a data assimilation scheme for Mars' atmosphere, and using it to understand aspects of Mars' atmospheric circulation. Data asimilation blends together observations from spacecraft in Mars orbit with simulations using the LMD Mars Global Climate Model (GCM). Data assimilation is a technique widespread in environmental science. It combines a model with observations in a statistically rigorous manner to produce representations of the system closer to reality than either the model or the observations by themselves. The model also fills in gaps where no observations are available, and retrieves unobserved quantities based on known relationships between observed and unobserved variables.

The LMD Mars data assimilation scheme was developed by Navarro et al. (2014, 2017). It uses the Local Ensemble Transform Kalman Filter (LETKF) method for data assimilation (Hunt et al., 2007), and assimilates observations from the Mars Climate Sounder instrument (MCS) on board Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The LETKF is an ensemble-based data assimilation scheme that, like other Ensemble Kalman Filters, uses an ensemble of model simulations to approximate the background error covariance matrix required by the Kalman Filter.

Work is currently focusing on assimilating temperature observations from the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ACS) instrument on board the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft. This has been in Mars orbit since 2016, and we are particularly focusing on the MY34 Global Dust Storm (2018). ACS's TIRVIM channel observes Mars in the thermal infrared in nadir and solar occultation modes. Of particular relevance to the assimilation are the measurements used to generate atmospheric temperature profiles and dust and water ice column opacities.

Mars dust storms are critical for engineering parameters, the entry-descent-landing (EDL) operation of spacecraft, the energy production by the solar panels of Mars rovers and landers, and presumably the health and safety of future astronauts on Mars. A recent example is the loss of contact with the Mars rover Opportunity as a direct consequence of a global dust storm event (GDE) during mid-2018.

GDEs are the result of local/regional dust storms growing to planetary size, and have a duration of up to a few months. GDEs also occurred in 2001 and 2007. The historical observational record shows that GDEs are irregular in time and occur, on average, once every few Martian years (1 Martian Year is equal to ca. 1.9 Earth Years).

Using Mars Global Climate Models (MGCMs), it is challenging to realistically simulate the occurrence of GDEs in some Martian Years and their absence in others. Together with image data from Mars orbiting satellites, MGCMs are a critical tool for advancing our understanding of the physical processes giving rise to Mars dust storms from local to global size. This has, in turn, direct implications for the future forecasting of Martian dust storms.

Opportunities

UAEU students interested in planetary science are always welcome to get in touch with us in H4-0042/0043, or on extension 4030.

MSc Studentships based at NSSTC for UAE Nationals

Opportunities for MSc studentships based at NSSTC are available related to the group's work. For more details please see here.

The deadline for UAEU's MSc program for entry in Spring 2021 is 31 October 2020. Please apply here.

We have the following projects available in planetary science:

  1. Various projects related to data analysis from the Emirates Mars Mission
  2. Remote sensing and modelling of the Martian atmosphere and surface
  3. Using data assimilation to estimate poorly-constrained physical parameters about the Martian atmosphere
  4. Cloud tracking using MRO-MARCI, Mars Express-HRSC, or EMM-EXI data to obtain Martian wind fields

UAEU students interested in these projects, or with their own ideas for graduation projects that they would like to discuss with the planetary science group, should contact Dr Roland Young or Dr Claus Gebhardt.

  1. Mars volcanoes and lava tubes/caves (C. Gebhardt)
  2. Atmospheric turbulence at the InSight landing site on Mars (R. Young)

Applications for all positions must be made via Jobs@UAEU. Applications made by other means (including by email) will not be considered.

Senior Researcher in Emirates Mars Mission related science

Deadline6 September 2020 for full consideration, otherwise open until filled
Length3 years in the first instance
ContactDr Roland Young
Full detailsJobs@UAEU, search for position 601184

We are looking for an experienced researcher to propose, lead, and develop their own research program related to the Emirates Mars Mission within the existing Planetary Science group at NSSTC. The research program should be in a scientific field relevant to EMM, and complementary to existing expertise and experience within the Planetary Science group. The group's existing Mars expertise is in planetary climate modelling, data assimilation, the dust cycle, and other physical processes relevant to Mars’ lower atmosphere and climate. The Senior Researcher's expertise could be in the upper atmosphere, surface or subsurface, polar science, atmospheric retrievals, ionosphere, atmospheric chemistry, solar-planetary interactions, or anything else that makes use of the data coming from EMM. We are particularly interested in proposals making use of data from the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS). The proposal should plan to make use of (and describe how it will use) EMM's publicly-available dataset.

Postdoctoral Fellow in Mars Atmospheric Science

Deadline6 September 2020 for full consideration, otherwise open until filled
Length2 years in the first instance
ContactDr Claus Gebhardt
Full detailsJobs@UAEU, search for position 601182

This position will focus on Mars dust storms in preparation for and in support of the exploitation of scientific data from the upcoming Emirates Mars Mission. EMM is expected to provide an unprecedented dataset of satellite images covering the Martian surface and atmosphere. The planned work will start with imagery and dust-climatological-data from past and existing Mars satellite missions. The initial goal is a study to gauge the feasibility of extracting information about Mars dust storms from such observations. Manual identification will be backed up by comparisons against the performance of automatic dust storm detection and/or machine learning methods. Once EMM begins its science phase, the researcher will focus on EMM observations / reanalyses as the main source of information about Martian dust storms. This will include quantitative constraints on key parameters related to the formation of dust storms, such as dust optical depth, atmospheric and surface temperatures, surface winds, etc.

Senior Researcher in Earth and Mars atmospheric retrievals

Deadline6 September 2020 for full consideration, otherwise open until filled
Length3 years in the first instance
ContactDr Roland Young
Full detailsJobs@UAEU, search for position 601185

The UAE is developing a research base in space science, and the main goal of this position is to build expertise in the area of planetary atmospheric retrievals. This will maximise the scientific return from the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), prepare Emirati researchers for future space missions, and familiarise them with the tools and principles used in atmospheric remote sensing. We are looking for an experienced scientist with demonstrated expertise and experience in ultraviolet/visible/infrared and thermal infrared/microwave atmospheric retrievals from passive remote sensing instruments. They will develop a program within the existing Planetary Science and Earth Observation groups at NSSTC, involving software development, retrieval product generation, student training, and scientific analysis. There are three major aspects to the position:

  1. Develop algorithms to convert EMM L2 data (calibrated spectra) into L3 data (atmospheric quantities). This will use EMM’s publicly available dataset. The point of this work is to build expertise among Emirati students and researchers in the methods and mathematical principles of atmospheric retrievals, radiative transfer modelling, and scientific programming, by involving them at all stages of the process.
  2. Build a research program studying certain aspects of the lower Martian atmosphere based on these data products, involving students and junior researchers.
  3. Contribute to NSSTC research and development projects in Earth observation where atmospheric retrievals are required. For example, the hyperspectral 813 pan-Arab Earth observation satellite is currently under development at NSSTC and is due for launch in 2024.
We are also recruiting a postdoctoral Fellow who will assist with these tasks, and the Senior Researcher will supervise their work.

Postdoctoral Fellow in Earth and Mars atmospheric retrievals

Deadline6 September 2020 for full consideration, otherwise open until filled
Length2 years in the first instance
ContactDr Roland Young
Full detailsJobs@UAEU, search for position 601183

We are looking for a postdoctoral researcher with demonstrated expertise in ultraviolet/visible/infrared and/or thermal infrared/microwave atmospheric retrievals to work alongside a Senior Researcher (see job description immediately above) and develop this program within the existing Planetary Science and Earth Observation groups at NSSTC. This will involve software development, retrieval product generation, student training, and scientific analysis. The main technical aspect of the position is to develop algorithms to convert EMM L2 data (calibrated spectra) into L3 data (atmospheric quantities). This will use EMM’s publicly available dataset. L3 data will already be produced by the EMM team, so the point of this work is to build expertise among Emirati students and researchers in the methods and mathematical principles of atmospheric retrievals, radiative transfer modelling, and scientific computing, by involving them at all stages of this process. The postdoctoral researcher will also contribute, where appropriate, to NSSTC research and development projects in Earth observation where atmospheric retrievals are required.

Group members

Current researchers
Dr Roland Young Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and NSSTC, group leader
Dr Aquib Moin Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and NSSTC
Dr Claus Gebhardt Postdoctoral Fellow
Ahmad Jalil Researcher (remote sensing)
Current graduate students
Rawdha Al Bedwawi MSc in Physics student, supervised by Aquib Moin and Luca Montabone
Malak Ali Hamed MSc in Physics student, supervised by Roland Young
Former group members
Dr Luca Montabone Distinguished Visiting Faculty, Jan-May 2020

The National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC)

NSSTC is a research and development institute of some 50 staff located on the UAE University campus in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, about 1 1/2 hours’ drive from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. UAEU is the largest and highest-ranked public university in the UAE.

The Center was established jointly by UAEU, the UAE Space Agency, and the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ICT-Fund), motivated by UAEU’s desire to strengthen its role in and contribute to the needs of the nation in Space Science and Space Technology, and to become a Space Science and Technology hub for the region. NSSTC focuses on research and development, higher education, and community outreach. The Center’s priorities are three-fold: excellence in Space Science, leadership in Space Technology, and providing innovative solutions to a broad spectrum of societal challenges.

Currently nearing completion at UAEU is NSSTC’s Assembly, Integration, and Testing facility for satellites up to 250 kg, with the capability of building multiple satellites at a time. It will also support UAEU student CubeSat projects. The facility will include a cleanroom, thermal vacuum chamber, vibration system, and anechoic chamber. Once complete, this facility will also include a ground station and mission control. The Center’s other facilities include Global Navigation Satellite System and In Space Resources Utilisation laboratories, and NSSTC’s research staff also have access to UAEU’s supercomputing cluster.

Alongside planetary science, NSSTC has expertise in spacecraft communications and precision positioning, on-board real-time systems, space situational awareness, global navigation systems, space resource utilization, geospatial information systems, and Earth observation.