IRC Awards 2012 - Young Scientist Award

Robert C. Levy
Research Scientist
NASA GSFC

Rob Levy

Rob Levy received the IRC Young Scientist Award for his outstanding contributions to radiation studies that improve retrieval of aerosol properties and related critical climate parameters from satellite data, introducing new data analysis and interpretation to address difficult challenges. Only five years past his Ph.D. he already bears the weighty responsibility of producing one of NASA’s most valued satellite assets, the MODIS aerosol product. He brings to this position a strong grounding in radiative transfer and a keen eye for detail.

Dr. Levy undertook the task to evaluate the over land dark target aerosol product, originally designed by the late Yoram Kaufman, when it proved to be problematic. He set out to design a brand new algorithm. From trudging through field work to obtain ground truth [Levy et al., JGR 2003; Levy et al., JAS 2005], attaining better understanding of radiative transfer code differences [Levy et al., IEEE TGRS 2004], evaluating the effect of different assumptions of particle properties [Levy et al., JGR 2007a], and implementing an entirely new code in an operational environment [Levy et al., JGR 2007b], Rob led a focused and ultimately successful effort to bring the MODIS over land product to a quantitatively useful level.

Asking the hard questions that other people avoid, Rob showed that there is no such thing as a global monthly mean aerosol optical depth because values can vary by as much as 50% due to choice of aggregation method [Levy et al., IEEE TGRS 2009]. He also sounded the warning about calibration drift in Terra MODIS that was creating artificial trends in the aerosol product and leading to grand but erroneous conclusions about the changing state of the planet [Levy et al., ACP 2010]. Rob has a stellar publication record: 39 articles in refereed journals with an average of 44 citations per article. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Geophysical Research and has received numerous awards for his efforts from the NASA Laboratory for Climate and Radiation including Scientific Leadership (2009) and Best First Authored Paper (2010).

Dr. Levy’s impact on the radiation science community transcends any metric gleaned from papers, citations and awards. Every time the MODIS aerosol product is downloaded, assimilated into models, used for air quality forecasting or shown in the media, Robert Levy’s contribution is present. He is a rising scientific leader.