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Satellite Altimetry Outreach During Hurricane Rita: Lessons Learned

Robert Leben(1) , George Born(1) , and Margaret Srinivasan(2)

(1) Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Reserach, 431 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309-0431, United States
(2) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Dr, Pasadena, CA 91109, United States


Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research (CCAR) released a media advisory through the Office of News Services at the University of Colorado, Boulder describing the oceanographic conditions, observed in near real-time using satellite altimetry hosted by the CCAR website, that contributed to the rapid and fierce intensification of Katrina over the Gulf of Mexico. There was no response to the advisory by the general public or any media outlet. One week later a similar advisory was released as another hurricane intensified over the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Rita. This time the response was overwhelming. The great difference in the media’s response is mainly attributable to the perception of the first news advisory as “old news” and the second as a news “scoop” central to the evolving news story on Hurricane Rita that was made all the more newsworthy in the aftermath of Katrina. While we as scientists would be equally interested in the two events purely from a scientific point of view, the public oceanographic and scientific outreach that we can affect through such newsworthy events makes it important for those of us involved in scientific outreach to understand how media interactions might evolve, so that we can get our message across and not become overwhelmed in the process. Often this means reacting quickly to an evolving news story with an approach that is acceptable to the media and easily understood by the general public. Unfortunately this is an acquired skill, one that most scientists are not well trained for nor comfortable doing. Thus, we often decline requests to do this important aspect of our research, which is to inform the public about the capabilities of ocean observing systems and the increasingly useful information these systems provide. This is all the more important as we better understand the critical role that oceans play in weather and climate. In this paper, we describe our outreach experiences during Hurricane Rita, the lessons we learned from our several days in the media spotlight, and the satellite altimetry and oceanography outreach we affected through these activities.


Workshop presentation

Full paper


                 Last modified: 07.10.03