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Meet the Photographers

Meet the Photographers -  Michael Van Woert

Picture of Michael Van Woert sitting at a PC overlaid with a picture of him taken in the Antarctic.

Dr. Michael Van Woert received a BS degree in Physics from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. His dissertation work focused on the application of emerging satellite technology to the study of oceanic fronts north of the Hawaiian Islands. The work attracted keen interest from fisheries biologist working both in the open-ocean and coastal regions.

After graduating from college, he spent 10 years working in industry. At this time, he had the opportunity to make the "rough" 5-day cruise across the great "Southern Ocean" to Palmer Station, Antarctica. There he worked to establish a NOAA polar orbiting direct-read-out satellite receiving system and it was then that he first got the "Polar Bug". Recalling the establishment of the Palmer Station system he noted, "the winds were so strong during the assembly of the satellite radome that one person had to hold the panel in place while three other people held the person in place. Two other people inside the dome then bolted the panel in place. It was definitely a dicey situation, but indicative of the working conditions in Antarctica. In the end the job did get done."

Two years later he made his first trip to McMurdo station where he established a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program direct-read-out satellite receiving system. McMurdo is the largest and busiest research station in Antarctica and distinctly "polar" compared to conditions at Palmer station. It was the combination of the important scientific issues that confront Antarctica along with the rich historical significance of the region that forged his real passion to return to the "Frozen Continent". These satellite-receiving systems continue to provide real-time satellite data in support of aviation weather forecasts and scientific research. Data from this program are available through the Arctic and Antarctic Research Center in San Diego, California.

In January 1993 he assumed duties as the program scientist for the NASA TOPEX/POSEIDON altimeter mission and program manager for the Physical Oceanography Program at NASA Headquarters. The only snow and ice he encountered during the two years at NASA was above average winter snowfall on the streets of Washington, DC. So, in 1994 he again gravitated toward the polar-regions taking a job as the manager of the Arctic Research Program at the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

At ONR he managed the Science Submarine Cruise (SCICEX) program for the Navy and in collaboration with the National Science Foundation managed the "Surface HEat Budget of the Arctic" (SHEBA) program. It was there also that he got involved in the Research on Ocean Atmosphere Variability and Ecosystem Response in the Ross Sea program. The program focused on understanding the biological response to the strong winds that blow off the Antarctic continent.

As part of that project, research cruises to the Ross Sea, Antarctica were conducted during December 1996, December 1997, and October/November 1998. Many of the Antarctic photos shown here were collected during these three research cruises.

Currently Dr. Van Woert is employed by the NOAA/NESDIS Office of Research and Applications where he serves at the Chief Scientist for the United States National Ice Center.

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September 30, 2009