The NSSTC Planetary Science group is part of NSSTC's Earth and Planetary Science Unit.

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.


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

Applications for all positions must be made via Jobs@UAEU. While enquiries are welcome, please do not apply for these positions by email - it must be done through Jobs@UAEU.

Senior Researcher in Emirates Mars Mission related science

DeadlineOpen until filled
Length3 years, with the possibility of renewal
Full detailsJob description
To applyJobs@UAEU, search for "Mars"

We seek a researcher with several years' post-Ph.D. experience and a strong track record in a relevant field to propose, lead, and develop their own research program using EMM observations. The research program should be complementary to existing expertise and experience within the NSSTC Planetary Science group. We are particularly interested in proposals using EMM's Emirates Ultraviolet Spectrometer.

Senior Researcher in Earth and Mars atmospheric retrievals

DeadlineOpen until filled
Length3 years, with the possibility of renewal
Full detailsJob description
To applyJobs@UAEU, search for "Mars"

We seek an experienced scientist with demonstrated expertise and experience in UV/visible/IR and thermal IR/microwave atmospheric retrievals from passive remote sensing instruments to build a research program building local expertise in atmospheric retrievals using EMM observations.

Postdoctoral Fellow in Mars Atmospheric Science

DeadlineOpen until filled
Length2 years, with the possibility of renewal
Full detailsJob description
To applyJobs@UAEU, search for "Mars"

We are looking for a postdoctoral fellow to focus on Mars dust storm research in support of the exploitation of scientific data from the Emirates Mars Mission. The researcher will focus on creating a comprehensive database of Mars storms, as well as pursuing independent research in this area.

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.

If you have recently been admitted to UAEU's MSc in Space Science program and are interested in doing your thesis project within the group, please get in contact with us.

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)

Group members

Current staff
Dr Roland Young Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and NSSTC, group leader
Dr Aquib Moin Associate Professor, Department of Physics and NSSTC
Dr Claus Gebhardt Senior Researcher
Maryam Al Jaberi Research Assistant
Ahmad Jalil Researcher (remote sensing)
Current students
Mohamed Alfahim EMM Research Experience for Undergraduates student (2021), supervised by Roland Young
Hessa Alsuwaidi EMM Research Experience for Undergraduates student (2021), supervised by Claus Gebhardt
Khulood Al Shehhi MSc in Physics student (2020-) / Research Assistant, supervised by Claus Gebhardt
Malak Ali Hamed MSc in Physics student (2019-), supervised by Roland Young
Rawdha Al Bedwawi MSc in Physics student (2019-), supervised by Aquib Moin and Luca Montabone/td>
Former staff
Dr Luca Montabone Distinguished Visiting Faculty, Jan-May 2020
Former students
Sara AlShamsi Spring 2021, BSc in Mathematics internship student, supervised by Claus Gebhardt
Fatma Al Shihhi Spring 2021, BSc in Mathematics internship student, supervised by Claus Gebhardt
Aaesha Alshehhi Spring 2021, BSc in Mathematics internship student, supervised by Claus Gebhardt
Monia Eltayeb Spring 2021, BSc in Physics internship student, supervised by Roland Young
Alam Saj Fall 2020, BSc in Physics internship student, supervised by Claus Gebhardt
Mohammed Alawadhi Fall 2020, BSc in Physics internship student, Supervised by Roland Young

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 90 minutes' 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.

Recently completed at UAEU is NSSTC’s Assembly, Integration, and Testing facility for satellites up to 250 kg, which will also support UAEU students' CubeSat projects with the capability of building multiple satellites at a time. The facility includes a cleanroom, thermal vacuum chamber, vibration system, anechoic chamber, ground station, and mission control room. The Center's other upcoming facilities include Global Navigation Satellite System and Propulsion laboratories, a Radio Array Observatory for Astronomy, Space Situational Awareness and multidisciplinary space science research, and NSSTC's research staff also have access to UAEU's High-Performance Computing cluster.

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, Earth Observation, and Planetary Science.