Three University of Washington graduate students are among this year’s recipients of a prestigious NASA fellowship that funds student research projects in the fields of Earth and planetary sciences and astrophysics.

This year’s UW awardees are from the College of the Environment and the College of Engineering, focused on topics that include ocean wave dynamics, the behavior of glaciers and how predator-prey interactions can influence wildfires. NASA awarded about 120 fellowships for this year’s Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology program, drawing from a pool of nearly 1,000 applicants.

Here are this year’s fellowship winners and information about what they will study:

photo of benjamin barr

Benjamin Barr

Benjamin Barr, atmospheric sciences

When ocean waves break in strong winds, they release showers of spray droplets into the air. These droplets transfer heat and moisture to the air, but the transfers are difficult to predict because the processes involved are complex. Barr will work with NASA to develop a model for predicting heat and moisture transfer to the atmosphere by spray, which will be incorporated into larger NASA models used to make predictions for weather and climate.

“The fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to work with NASA experts in many fields of study. It brings us into a broad community of researchers who will become our friends and colleagues during our career,” Barr said. “This exposure to researchers on the cutting edge of science is invaluable to young scientists who are developing their own research focuses.”

Lauren Satterfield, environmental and forest sciences

photo of Lauren Satterfield

Lauren Satterfield

Large plant-eating mammals, such as deer and elk, can reduce the amount of flammable brush in the forest as the animals eat and trample plants. These activities can help reduce burnable fuels on a landscape, impacting where a wildfire starts and how it grows. But researchers still don’t know what effects the predators of deer and elk — including wolves and cougars — might have on this natural cycle.

Satterfield will combine NASA data on forest canopies with GPS collar data from both predators and their prey to understand the role these animals play in regulating the amount of fuel and severity of wildfire in areas across Washington and the Pacific Northwest.

“This NASA project will allow me to take my Ph.D. work, which focuses on understanding predator-predator and predator-prey interactions, and apply it in an exciting new direction with potentially widespread implications for how we manage for fire in the future,” Satterfield said. “Long-term, I seek to use ecology and predictive modeling to address issues of global climate change in ecosystems heavily influenced by people.”

The fellowship used to be called the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship and was renamed in 2019. More information on this year’s selection process is available here.

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