In February 2004, NASA Headquarters designated the Ocean Color Group at NASA/Goddard as the first prototype in their new Missions to Measurements strategy and accordingly, this group has assumed operational responsibility for the collection, processing and distribution of MODIS ocean color data on both the Terra and Aqua spacecraft. As a further move in this measurement-based strategy, the group has also been given the responsibility for NASA's ocean role in the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Suomi-(NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) which is a joint mission involving the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) and the NPOESS Integrated Program Office (IPO). Finally, the group has most recently been given the responsibility for designing, implementing and operating the data processing and mission operations component of the recently launched ocean salinity mission called Aquarius, a space mission developed by NASA and the Space Agency of Argentina (Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, CONAE). The Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft was successfully launched in June 2011 and began routine operations on December 1, 2011 at which time, Gene assumed the role of Aquarius Project Manager.
The applications of satellite-derived ocean color data range from providing the information needed for a more accurate assessment of the role of the ocean in global change, for providing a key parameter in a number of ecological and environmental studies, and the color images of the Earth's changing land and ocean features will be of significant use in fisheries management, agriculture assessment and coastal zone monitoring. There is no question that the Earth is changing. SeaWiFS enabled us for the first time to monitor the biological consequences of that change - to see how the things we do, and how natural variability, affect the Earth's ability to support life.
Prior to 1985, Gene's experience included extended service (3 1/2 years) as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Samoa, where among other things he was involved in fish farming , sea turtle conservation, boat building and village fisheries development. For much of his last year in Samoa, he had been living just outside of Apia, working mostly at the Fisheries Division on the FAO-sponsored Village Fisheries Development Project. During the earlier part of his stay, he had been working on a number of projects starting with a sea turtle conservation project down in Aleipata and then moving out to Savai'i to design and build an outboard engine repair workshop and then finally into the swamps of Vaitola with a bunch of shovels and a couple of his coworkers to dig six fishponds by hand for a baitfish culture project. It was time for something new. Part of this new development project involved working with a wonderful group of local Samoan carpenters, led by master wood carver Sven Ortquist (pictured at left keeping a close eye on me) building boats. Working with the FAO marine architect who designed the boats, these guys would turn out both an 18 and 28 foot version of an outboard-propelled fishing boat that would be purchased by fisherman from villages all around Samoa.
Another part of his job involved taking one of the boats and going from village to village with a few of the best fishermen from the Fisheries Division and spending a few days in each village demonstrating the boats and the different fishing techniques that they offered. Rather than just trolling for tuna or fishing in the relatively shallow, protected waters within the reef, these boats could be taken offshore and with large reels of heavy monofilament line mounted on each side, it was now possible to fish the very productive and relatively untapped deep ocean depths, generally one hundred fathoms or more. Of course, this meant fishing throughout the night, bobbing around in a relatively small boat with perhaps three other fishermen and by the end of the night, adding to the mix several hundred pounds of fish in every size and shape and smell.
The project was so successfull and the fish catches so plentiful that he soon started taking twice weekly trips around the island of Upolu, hanging on for dear life to the back of a giant flatbed truck that held four large boxes containing ice on the outbound trip and hundreds of pounds of fish that were caught in the remote villages on the return. As a result of these various projects and with the arrival of a new group of fisheries volunteers, more fish reached the markets than ever before and during the first 18 months that this new group of volunteers was in the country, the importation of canned fish into Western Samoa dropped significantly.
During his Peace Corps years, Gene experienced first-hand, many of the fisheries traditions unique to the south seas, including the rather remarkable way the people of the South Pacific fish for that most feared creature of the sea, the shark.
In addition to adventures underwater in Samoa, there were also some pretty interesting experiences underground during the exploration of an ancient lava tube that was once used as a place of refuge by the Samoan people over seven hundred years ago.
During the many years that Gene has spent going out
to sea, he has come face to face with more than his fair share of marine life. After Peace Corps, he worked as a fisheries biologist in Seattle, Alaska and San Diego.
It was through a combination of taking to
heart the old sayings of "my boat is so small and the ocean so wide" and
"you can't tell the forest for the trees", that Gene first became interested
in the prospect of using satellite observations to help get a better
understanding of how the oceans worked. This led to his becoming a Graduate Research Fellow at the Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, where for his dissertation, he used satellite and oceanographic data to study the variability in, and the relationship between, the physical and biological processes in the ocean.
The author and co-author of numerous publications, Gene has also contributed to a large number of programs including The Jason Project, Public Broadcasting, the BBC, the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Society, the Cousteau Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment. In addition, he has been a member of the U.S. Scientific Steering Committee for the National Science Foundation's Joint Global Ocean Flux Study, a program to study the ocean's role in the global carbon cycle. He was on the International Science Advisory Council for the Coastal Rhythms Exhibition at the New England Aquarium, and was involved with the joint NOAA/NASA project studying the Health, Ecological, and Econonic Dimensions of Global Change. Recently, he helped put together a Podcast for the COSEE-NOW website and was invited to present a lecture at the Library of Congress which was entitled "Observing the Living Oceans from Space" which is available as an online webcast. An appropriately named Maniac Lecture lecture entitled "Satellites, Seabirds and Seals: A thirty year retrospective of Ocean Color from Space" was given on June 27, 2012 at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.
One of his favorite collaborations involved working with Ned Potter on the one year anniversary story for Peter Jennings and the ABC World News Tonight.
Gene has been involved in using the World Wide Web (since January, 1994)
and other emerging technologies to reach out to a wider audience. He is
the creator of the JASON Project Home Page, which in collaboration with
Dr. Robert Ballard, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who led the team that found the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic,
and The JASON Foundation for Education, are using advanced interactive
telecommuncations to educate and excite students about science and technology.
As part of his JASON experiences, Gene has had an opportunity to participate in a number of JASON expeditions including JASON IV to the Gulf of California,
where the underwater mysteries of hydrothermal vents were explored. During
JASON V Expedition to Belize, Gene ran fiber optic cables through the rain forest of Belize to establish JASON's Jungle Computer Lab that was used during the live expedition broadcasts. As part of the JASON VI: Island Earth Expedition, Gene helped develop the Spiders of the World interactive exercise that involved students in an online data gathering and sharing activity and coordinated the first JASON broadcast live via the Internet.
In addition to his continued involvement with the online components of
the 1996 expedition,
JASON VII: Adapting to a Changing Sea, which included the web-based Aquatic Field Study and Exploring the Steel Reef, Gene participated
in an all day dive to the bottom of the sea on the Navy's nuclear research submarine, the NR-1
While at the JASON VII expedition site in Key Largo, Florida, Gene came face to face with one of the legends of the silver screen......the African Queen.
The Union Jack still flies proudly, high above the deck of the African Queen. The old steam boiler still needs to be kicked occasionally, lest it
blow itself and all the inhabitants of the Queen into oblivion. However,
it isn't Humphrey Bogart that is doing the kicking anymore, nor is it wood cut
from the shores of a dark, leech-infested African river that keeps the old girl
Rather, it is James Hendricks and his bags of African
Queen charcoal briquets that keep the legend alive.
Most days, the African Queen rests peacefully on her cradle under
a faded canopy at the dock beside the Key Largo Holiday Inn.
However, the African Queen, that 30 foot collection of steel,
wood, rope and character is not one to rest on her laurels. Under the
watchful eye of Jim Hendricks she has plied the world's waterways from
New Orleans to the English Channel and I was fortunate enough to be
one of the lucky ones to follow in the footsteps of Bogart and Hepburn.
Gene has had a number of very productive collaborations with the Smithsonian Institution. Working with the Institution's Office of Environmental Awareness, he helped create the Smithsonian's first electronic exhibition, "Ocean Planet Online", which has been called one of the most comprehensive and technologically advanced exhibitions of its kind. In appreciation for this work, the Smithsonian Institution awarded Gene the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal in 1995 which placed him in some pretty impressive company.
Working with Dr. Clyde Roper and the folks at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Gene helped to put In Search of Giant Squid online, an exhibition which explores and interprets the mystery, beauty and complexity of giant squids - the world's largest invertebrates and was based upon material presented in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's exhibit In Search of Giant Squid.
In 1997, Clyde Roper lead a team of scientists to the depths of Kaikoura Canyon off the coast of New Zealand on An Expedition into the Depths of the Last Frontier.
During February and March 1999, Clyde Roper returned to Kaikoura Canyon
to continue the exploration of this incredible ecosystem. This time, Gene
went along to help document the expedition as it took place.
On a more recent trip to that part of the world, Gene learned first hand what the expression "going to the devil" really meant.
Using tools developed for Ocean Planet, Norman Kuring and Gene worked with the Smithsonian's Office of Printing and Photographic Services to develop a Web-based utility to Search and Retrieve Images from The Smithsonian Photographic Services Data Base. Using
this tool, it is possible to quickly and efficiently search through almost 1,000 image files covering topics ranging from Air and Space, to Science, Nature, Technology, History, and People-Places and to retrieve the images and captions.
To help celebrate the Smithsonian Institution's 150th Anniversary, Gene and Norman created a way for people around the world to wish the Smithsonian a happy birthday.
For the JASON IX Expedition, Gene was onboard the research ship R/V Atlantis (April 17-26, 1998) the newest
research vessel from the Woods Hole's Oceanographic Institution where researchers used both the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) JASON and the manned submersible Alvin to explore the hydrothermal vent communities a mile beneath the Sea of Cortez.
In addition to helping provide daily updates of all the activities onboard the Atlantis live via satellite over the internet, Gene also collected daily measurements to help verify the atmospheric correction algorithms for SeaWiFS. Also, the Atlantis provided a great subject for photography.
Finally satisfying a lifelong dream, Gene spent two weeks standing watches, chipping paint, swabbing decks, tarring footropes, washing dishes, scraping and painting knees, pumping bilges, hauling lines, climbing ratlines, furling sails and in general, having an incredible experience, as he sailed onboard the wooden tallship "HMS" Rose from Miami to New York City. Not long after this trip, the HMS Rose was completely refit and was reborn as the HMS Surprise, appearing in the 20th Century fox film Master and Commander: Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe and directed by Peter Weir.
More recently, Gene has been involved in helping tell the story of the Ben Franklin, a research submersible built by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation that at 8:56 P.M. July 14, 1969, carrying six brave aquanauts, slipped beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida on a mission to explore the secrets of the Gulf Stream. This longest privately-sponsored undersea experiment which NASA took part in, ended more than 30-days and 1,444 nautical miles later, when the Franklin and its crew surfaced some 300 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, at 7:58 A.M. August 14, 1969.
As they say, the rest is history.....a history that largely remained untold, until now.
A one-hour documentary including a special interview with Walter Cronkite has been broadcast on the Discovery's Science Channel. Telling the story of the Ben Franklin and the Apollo 11 mission to the moon that by a quirk of fate took place during the same week in July 1969, these two missions ended a decade of exploration, unsurpassed and as yet unequaled in human history.
After studying the Galapagos Islands from space for over twenty-five years, Gene was finally able to follow in Darwin's footsteps and visit one of the most remarkable ecosystems in the world. While in the Archipelago, he sent back journals, photographs and movies to share his remarkable experience.
As you can tell, water plays a major role in Gene's life....he enjoys the ocean,lakes, rivers, ponds.....just about anything that contains water - except his basement.
He spends as much time as possible sailing or paddling around on the Chesapeake Bay, exploring some of the many natural, and oftentimes, unnatural wonders that this area has to offer, and often refers to himself as an urban kayaker because of the more unusual places he prefers to paddle, generally with his camera by his side.
Gene earned his Ph.D. in Coastal Oceanography from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and lives in a 120 year old farmhouse along with his dog, Henry, which gives him the opportunity to ride around on a little tractor, to dig in the dirt, and do death-defying feats with sharp tools.