The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) is a laboratory in the Earth Sciences Division (ESD) of National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). The ESD is part of GSFC's Sciences and Exploration Directorate.
Following approval by NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan in December 1960, the institute was established by Dr. Robert Jastrow in May 1961 (originally as the New York City office of GSFC's Theoretical Division) to do basic research in space sciences in support of GSFC programs. Research areas included the structure of Earth, Moon, and other planetary bodies; the atmospheres of Earth and the other planets; the origin and evolution of the solar system; the properties of interplanetary plasma; Sun-Earth relations; and the structure and evolution of stars. The institute was sited in New York on the premise that conducting theoretical research in the space sciences would be facilitated by being near the leading universities in the greater metropolitan area. Further, it was thought that the location would promote interest at the universities in NASA programs.
The institute's early study of the Earth and planetary atmospheres using data collected by satellites and space probes eventually led to GISS becoming a leading center of atmospheric modeling and of climate change. Led by Dr. James E. Hansen from 1981 to 2013, research at GISS emphasized a broad study of global change, which is an interdisciplinary initiative addressing natural and man-made changes in our environment that occur on various time scales — from one-time forcings such as volcanic explosions, to seasonal/annual effects such as El Niño, and on up to the millennia of ice ages — and that affect the habitability of our planet. In 2014, Dr. Gavin A. Schmidt was named chief of GISS.
A key objective of GISS research is prediction of atmospheric and climate changes in the 21st century. The research combines analysis of comprehensive global datasets with global models of atmospheric, land surface, and oceanic processes. Study of past climate change on Earth and of other planetary atmospheres serves as a useful tool in assessing our general understanding of the atmosphere and its evolution.
Program areas at GISS may be roughly divided into the categories of climate forcings; climate model development; Earth observations; atmospheric radiation; atmospheric chemistry; climate impacts; planetary atmospheres, exoplanets, and astrobiology; paleoclimate; and other disciplines. Due to the interconnections, most GISS personnel engage in research in several of these areas.
The perspective provided by space observations is crucial for monitoring global change and for providing data needed to develop an understanding of the Earth system. As the principal NASA center for Earth observations, Goddard Space Flight Center plays a leading role in global change research. Global change studies at GISS are coordinated with research at other offices and laboratories within the GSFC Earth Sciences Division.
GISS works cooperatively with area universities and research organizations, most notably with Columbia University. Many of our personnel are members of Columbia's Earth Institute, Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR), Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, or Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. We also collaborate with researchers and educators at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the City College of New York, the American Museum of Natural History, Stony Brook University, and elsewhere.
GISS has been located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City since its founding. The institute was initially located at Riverside Drive and 120th St., a few blocks away from Columbia University, but moved into its present offices at the corner of Broadway and West 112th St. in the late 1960s. The building, officially known as Columbia University's Armstrong Hall, is shown in the photo at right. If you have watched the TV program Seinfeld, you will recognize the corner from the exterior shots of the diner where Jerry and friends hang out. The restaurant is Tom's Restaurant, and GISS occupies most of the upper floors. Four blocks up Broadway is the main entrance to Columbia's Morningside Heights campus. A block east along 112th St. is the West Front of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, while a block west is Riverside Park.
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
New York, NY 10025 USA
General inquiries about the scientific programs at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies may be directed to the Goddard Space Flight Center Public Affairs office at 1-301-286-8955.