GISS Personnel Directory
Dr. Michael D. Allison
Affiliation: NASA Emeritus
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
New York, NY 10025 USA
My research is centered on planetary dynamics and atmospheric circulation, and the related work of spaceflight mission planning. There are it seems to me three distinct approaches to the practice of modern science, including Earth and space science: numerical simulation/ prediction, observation/ discovery, and conceptual synthesis/ theory. Having variously tried my hand at each of these, I know that while any one of the three can usefully support and test the other two, I am happiest working on the interface between observation and theory. For me, spaceflight provides the most exciting opportunities for planetary observation, necessarily involving a collaboration among large teams. I have worked on several flight projects, most recently as a member of the Cassini Radar Science Team and a co-investigator on the Huygens Doppler Wind Experiment.
Through my work on the flight teams, I like to think I am contributing to the accumulation of new facts. But in my more solitary theoretical work, I strive to help consolidate and interpret the facts with a few unifying ideas, preferably in terms of relatively simple equations. Among my favorite notions is the still preliminary idea that the organization of the very different weather systems exhibited among the several planets is established by the mixing of the so-called "potential vorticity" measuring the combined swirl and buoyant layering of their moving atmospheres. I also enjoy using wave theory to diagnose outer planet wind and temperature structures. And I have developed simple orbital algorithms for the efficient reckoning of the solar forcing of the diurnal-seasonal climate states of Mars and Titan. Although I have come to rely more and more in this work on mathematical software, I am still inspired by the outrageous claim of the great twentieth century oceanographer, Henry Stommel, that "the pencil is mightier than the computer." But I think the destination is ultimately more important than the chosen pathway. And I feel privileged to work for the one U.S. agency chartered to explore Space.