FEEDBACK Early Career Scientist Spotlight - Mariel Friberg

Early Career Scientist Spotlight

Dr. Mariel D. Friberg
Last name in Hispanic culture: Friberg-Aponte

Atmospheric Scientist
Climate and Radiation Laboratory

What is your research focus?

My research focuses on investigating new air quality and wildfire observations using emerging stereoscopic (stereo matching) techniques, which rely on the parallax principle to estimate stereo height. Specifically, the wind and aerosol imaging techniques that I use pair various combinations of low Earth orbit (LEO) and geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites. Our stereoscopic imagery algorithm uses consecutive and concurrent images retrieved by two satellite sensors with different observing angles to track the top height and velocity of optically thick features, such as wildfire plumes and clouds. We compare these stereo retrievals to ground- and airborne-based observations and numerical weather model simulations and analyze how the simulation’s plume injection time, plume/cloud top height, and wind velocity differ from remotely sensed stereo observations. This work leverages my research experience developing data fusion physical techniques to constrain chemical transport model outputs for regional wildfire and air quality applications using satellite-, aircraft- and ground-based observations.

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Retrieving fire cloud top height during the 2020 California Creek Fire.
Credit: Carr et al. (2020)

What is one research project that you are particularly excited about, and why?

My favorite would have to be my current NASA ROSES New (Early Career) Investigator Program (NIP) project titled “Investigation of Wildfire Convection and Boundary Layer Dynamics with LEO-GEO and GEO-GEO Stereo-Imaging/Tracking Aerosol Plumes.” In addition to being a newly minted Principal Investigator, I get to work with a phenomenal team of scientists, professors, and students on a project that has the potential to improve wildfire and air quality transport model simulations.

What science questions do you investigate?

As part of my NIP grant, I’m investigating the science question below using the stereo wind imaging techniques described in Carr et al. (2020).

  • What are the vertical distribution properties of wildfire plumes in deep convection?
  • What convective wildfire dynamics contribute to vertical transports of aerosol plumes within the atmosphere?
  • What complex and localized wildfire meteorology (convective vertical motion and characteristics) is captured by satellites but not by models?
Our science priority is to better understand wildfire-related convective storm dynamics and aerosol processes, including attribution, air quality, and redistribution to make a significant, unique contribution to wildfire analysis and forecasting. Most notably, the new data will provide twice daytime LEO-GEO based observational constraints on the GEO-GEO diurnal cycle of plume injection height and outflow wind velocity, which serve to enhance the scientific communities understanding of fire clouds evolution, characterization of the long-range transport of wildland fire smoke emissions and wildfire diurnal impacts on air quality. Secondly, improved accuracy and coverage of smoke injection height data increase the effectiveness of management methods that reduce and/or estimate smoke exposure.

How did you end up working at NASA Goddard?

In 2013, I was selected for the NASA-University of Virginia Intensive Summer School in Computing for Environmental Sciences (ISSCENS) and NASA internship program. I was fortunate to be mentored by the exceptional Atmospheric Chemistry Senior Scientists, Dr. Mian Chin, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in the Earth Science Division. This enriching and productive research internship experience led me to integrate remote sensing techniques into my doctoral research. Thanks to the support of my NASA and Georgia Tech advisors, my proposals led to my NASA MUREP Harriett G. Jenkins Graduate Program (JGFP) and NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowships. My NASA experiences are possible thanks to the community’s efforts.

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In the upper-right photo, I’m giving an invited talk in Spanish on select Goddard Air Quality and Public Health applied research at the Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies in Panamá City, Panamá, on Oct. 22, 2018. In the lower-left photo, I’m presenting my research on improving regional air quality modeling using surface and satellite observations to meteorology students at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, on Sep. 23, 2019.
Credit: Mariel D. Friberg

Who inspires you?

While in the flow of the present, many people and things inspire me. This inspirational flow is magnified when I interact with colleagues, mentors, and friends in this mental state. When I step back, I realize the most enjoyable part of my career is a daily occurrence. I get to work on being in a state of inspirational flow that simultaneously develops me personally and professionally.

What is one of your favorite moments in your career so far?

This question reminds me of a Möbius strip. The answer depends on how you define moments. Some of my favorite moments in my career are realized or enjoyed in hindsight. As I process events, my awareness increases, failures become successes with time, and catalyst moments become clear.

Some of my NASA-related full circle-type career moments include:

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With a less than 7-hour deliverable deadline, the team of UAF graduate and undergraduate students working at the Space Systems Engineering Program (SSEP) Lab kindly walked me through their excellent Alaska Research CubeSat satellite work. Thanks to the NASA-funded Alaska Space Grant Program, directed by Dr. Denise Thorsen and coordinated by Mrs. Kayde Kaiser, the newly constructed UAF SSEP lab space supports hardware design, fabrication, assembly, and testing (including a Helmholtz cage).
Credit: Mariel D. Friberg

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Drs. Don Hampton and Jintai Li, from the Geophysical Institute, UAF, giving me a tour of the Poker Flat Research Range (PFRR) on Aug. 12, 2021. In the top photo, Dr. Li shows me the Lidar Research Facility instruments at PFRR. He works with models and observations to understand the role of waves in regional and global circulation as part of the Collins Research Laboratory team. The bottom photo is on the roof of the PFRR Neal Davis Science Operations Center with Dr. Hampton, where he and his colleagues have optical instruments set up to observe and study the aurora and upper atmosphere (lower photo).
Credit: Mariel D. Friberg

What is a fun fact about you?

I recently had my first encounter with a live polar bear in Utqiaġvik, AK, the northernmost city in the US. The chance encounter occurred on our way back to our lodging after a DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) North Slope of Alaska (NSA) Research Facility site visit in August 2021.

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The DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) North Slope of Alaska (NSA) Research Facility in Utqiaġvik, AK (left side photos). The famous Utqiaġvik Whale Bone Arch (upper right). Immediately after our ARM NSA site visit, we sighted a polar bear dining on a walrus (lower right).
Credit: Mariel D. Friberg


Home Town:
Cayey, Puerto Rico and Norfolk, Virginia

Undergraduate Degree:
B.S. in Civil Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

Post-graduate Degrees:
Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

personal photo

Link to Dr. Friberg's GSFC Bio

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