Student Open Feedback Forum

A series of Student Open Feedback Forums has been held for undergraduate programs in ESSE Department: Geomatics Engineering on February 15th, Space Engineering on February 16th, and Earth and Atmospheric Science on February 27th. Students met with the Chair of the department, Dr. Regina Lee, as well as with other faculty members and staff from the Student Welcome and Support Centre and the Dean’s Office. Students provided their opinions and suggestions about specific courses, the program in general, and teaching methods and style. They also learned about the changes made to the programs since the last Forum.


An Interview: Dr. John Moores

What is your educational background?

I did my undergrad in Engineering Science at University of Toronto, and then a PhD in Planetary Science at University of Arizona.

What is your most memorable project?

My most memorable project is the Huygens Probe, since it was the first space mission that I had worked on. It is the first spacecraft that has ever descended on Titan, so it was an exciting mission to begin with. I was developing radiative transfer simulations of Titanian atmosphere and matching them up with images taken by the spacecraft. We were looking for clouds, changes in aerosols, etc.

We worked in a big team with European Space Agency, and I got to be one of the first dozen people to see the surface of Titan. It was fun!

It was interesting to see how Mother Nature likes to surprise us: how imperfect data can be. I find the same with other missions as well—against all the theories, data is never as good or as bad as you expect.

If you could create any course at York, which course would you create?

A course on geophysics of planetary surfaces.

Which part of teaching is the most exciting to you?

It is always rewarding to see students getting interested in the subject, to see their grades improve and how they succeed at the end, even if they started out shaky.

What do you like about York the most?

It’s a pretty campus – especially in the summer, when it is nice and quiet.

Favorite building at York?

Scott Library, because it has a big and spacious atrium.

Favorite color?


Favorite food?

Chocolate. My wife is a project manager at Cadbury, so I have no choice!

Favorite movie?


What do you do in your free time?

I run; I also like racket sports, such as badminton, squash, and tennis.

Where would you like to travel to?

Asutralia – it is a big open country by the ocean. I grew up by the coast, and kind of miss that.

Interesting fact about yourself?

I used to work for RCMP.

Summer/Winter     Apple/PC     Star Wars/Star Trek     Ketchup/Mustard/Relish













Dr. John Moores’s Research Identifies Icy Ridges on Pluto

Using a model similar to what meteorologists use to forecast weather on Earth and a computer simulation of the physics of evaporating ices, a new study, published in the journal Nature, by York University’s Professor John Moores, Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering, has found evidence that snow and ice features previously only seen on Earth, have been spotted on Pluto.

Penitentes” which are formed by erosion, are bowl-shaped depressions with spires around the edge, and are several metres high.

The groundbreaking research, done in collaboration with researchers at NASA and Johns Hopkins University, indicates that these icy features may exist on other planets where environmental conditions are similar.

The identification of the ridges of Tartarus Dorsa as Penitentes suggests that the presence of an atmosphere is necessary for the formation of penitentes, which would explain why they have not previously been seen on other airless icy satellites or dwarf planets,” says Moores. “But exotic differences in the environment give rise to features with very different scales. This test of our terrestrial models for penitentes suggests that we may find these features elsewhere in the solar system, and in other solar systems, where the conditions are right.

Moores, along with his York postgraduate fellow, Dr. Christina Smith, Dr. Anthony Toigo, at the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University and NASA Research Astrophysicist, Dr. Scott D. Guzewich, at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA compared their model to ridges on Pluto imaged by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. Pluto’s ridges are much larger – 500 metres tall and separated by three to five kilometres – as compared to their meter-sized earthly counterparts.

This gargantuan size is predicted by the same theory that explains the formation of these features on Earth,” says Moores. “In fact, we were able to match the size and separation, the direction of the ridges, as well as their age: three pieces of evidence that support our identification of these ridges as penitentes.”

Moores says though Pluto’s environment is very different from the Earth – it is much colder, the air much thinner, the sun much dimmer and the snow and ice on the surface are made from methane and nitrogen instead of water – the same laws of nature apply. Both NASA and Johns Hopkins University were instrumental in the collaboration that led to this new finding. Both provided background information on Pluto’s atmosphere using a model similar to what meteorologists use to forecast weather on Earth. This was one of the key ingredients in Moores’ own models of the penitentes, without which this discovery would not have been made.

This story was originally published on YFile, York University’s news service


Dr. Gordon Shepherd Receives the COSPAR William Nordberg Medal

In June, the international Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) has announced that Gordon Shepherd had been awarded the COSPAR William Nordberg Medal. It was stated that he would receive the award on August 1st during the 41st COSPAR Scientific Assembly in Istanbul, Turkey. On July 15th, after an attempted coup in Turkey, the COSPAR officials found that they were speaking to different representatives, who offered to have President Erdogan give an invited talk at the Assembly. However, the Assembly was later cancelled by the COSPAR, so Gordon received the medal by mail. The concluding paragraph of his citation follows:

Professor Shepherd is one of the world’s foremost scientists studying the physics of the Earth’s middle and upper atmosphere. He not only understands deeply the workings of the Earth’s middle and upper atmosphere, but he is also a superb innovator of sophisticated instruments that continually push the envelope”.

For the Assembly, Gordon was asked to submit in advance a brief acceptance of the award, which he would have spoken had he been there, which follows:

I am both honoured and humbled to receive this medal. William Nordberg and I were contemporaries; he was born one year before me, and took up his position at NASA two years after I was appointed to the University of Saskatchewan. Alas, we never met. I feel particularly celebrated at receiving a COSPAR medal, as COSPAR is the international organization with which I have been most deeply involved. I attended my first Scientific Assembly in Prague, in 1969. I remember well the one in Canada in 1982, and again in 2008, when I chaired the Executive Committee for the Assembly, while serving eight years

as a Bureau member. I am totally indebted to those many colleagues and family members who supported me in the marvellous activities over the years that led to this award”.

The latest issue of the Space Research Today magazine from December 2016 included an article about Dr. Shepherd’s achievement:

Professor Gordon Shepherd has made many distinguished contributions to our understanding of the upper atmosphere through the development of clever instruments and scientific insights revolutionizing our view of its dynamics and chemistry. Professor Shepherd is a pioneering scientist who has continuously developed instrumentation to measure key features of the upper atmosphere.”

Dr. Gordon Shepherd (Photo Credit: Gordon Shepherd)

Dr. Gordon Shepherd
(Photo Credit: Gordon Shepherd)

Here is a brief biography of William Nordberg:

“William Nordberg moved from Austria to the USA in 1953, and was appointed in 1959 to the Goddard Space Flight Center within the recently created NASA. Under his leadership in 1960, the first weather satellite series, called TIROS, were launched, the first to give information about cloud formation and hurricanes. These were followed by three other satellite programs: ITOS, Nimbus  and Landsat. In 1975, he was awarded the William T. Pecora Award and the highest NASA award, the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1974, he was made director of Space Applications at NASA. Today Nordberg is considered the “father” of the weather and remote sensing satellites.  NASA presents the annual William Nordberg Memorial Award for Earth Science, and COSPAR awards the biennial William Nordberg Medal. William Nordberg died of skin cancer in 1976”.

By: Dr. Gordon Shepherd


An Interview: Prof. Franz Newland

What is your educational background?

I went to school in California until senior kindergarten, as well as spent 6 months going to school in Bahamas. However, most of my education I obtained in the UK. I have received a degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering in South Hampton, then a PhD in Tracking Clouds and Satellite Images using Artificial Intelligence. I did my PostDoc in Toulouse in Orbit Determination of Space Debris near the Geostationary Belt Using Ground Based telescope.

Please tell us about your first few years at York.

The first 1.5 years have been exciting, as the students are very enthusiastic here. I would also call it refreshing—York is a nice place to question long held assumptions. In the industry, you often have to stick to the traditional path and old ways of doing things. However, in academia, I have an opportunity to help the next generation to follow the new path, as well as challenge the stereotypes that I wasn’t able to challenge in the industry.

What is your most memorable project?

On of them is being able to work on the Automatic Transfer Vehicle (ATV) European Resupply Vessel for the International Space Station (ISS). It is a bus-sized spacecraft carrying the equipment for the use of ISS, which flies to the station and autonomously does rendez-vous and docking to it. It is a truly international project, involving Europeans, Americans, and Russians.

Another memorable project is my first CubeSat in Canada. It’s fascinating how in just 7.5 months you can go from a blank sheet of paper to a fully functional satellite.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the Capstone course. It is a lot of fun seeing the variety of engineering problems that the students are tackling. If a couple of them succeed, they will actually solve some problems I’ve been running into for awhile.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like: The diversity—York is not as diverse as it could be, but definitely more diverse than most of the other institutions. However, it is still lacking the gender diversity in Engineering. In Toulouse, there was a much higher percentage of women in one of  the Operations Centers, but  long strives in providing a welcoming environment. Lassonde, on opposite, produces a comfortable and open environment, even though we still need to work on breaking the hidden barriers.

Dislike: Not having enough time – I would love to find more time to be able to do more for students.

Favorite building at York? I like the new Bergeron building. I studied clouds in my PhD and spent hours looking at sequences of cloud images, so I find Bergeron’s cloud metaphor lovely. In addition, I do like Petrie, because it’s my home.

What’s your pet peeve? Spelling and grammar.

Favorite quote? The probability of success is difficult to estimate, but if we never search, the chance of success is zero.” by Philip Morrison and Guiseppe Cocconi

Favorite color?  Blue, because it reminds me of clouds.

Favorite food?  Cassoulet – it’s hot bean and duck stew popular in Southern France. It warms you up during the winter!

Favorite movie? “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, because Willie Wonka is one of the few literary engineers who  inspire people.

What do you do in your free time? I have a 7 year old at home, so I spend most of my time with him. Otherwise, I play music: I play flute and some piano.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose and why? I would want to be a kid again. I see every day how my son explores the world, and it would be wonderful to see it through those eyes again.

Interesting fact about yourself? I used to have a Californian accent until I was 11.


Summer/Winter/Spring Apple/PC/Linux Start Wars/Star Trek Ketchup/Mustard

Paola’s Retirement Party — November 11th

On Friday, November 11th, colleagues, friends, and  family of Paola Panaro got together to wish her happy retirement. As Administrative Assistant at the Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering for many years, Paola has always been a source of professional support and helpful advice to faculty, staff, and students alike.

We all are wishing Paola good luck in this new  period of her life!


GIS Day — November 16th

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Day is an annual event first held on November 19, 1999 by the National Geographical Society (NGS), the Association of American Geographers (AAG), and ESRI. Since then, GIS Day is held on the third Wednesday of November each year during Geography Awareness Week.

This year, an event, which was organized by the Geomatics Club at YorkU for the GIS Day on November 16th, hosted guest speakers from Navmatica and ESRI: Mohamed Mostafa, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer, and Brent Hall, Ph. D., Director, Education and Research.


Advisory Board on the Law of the Sea seminar

As part of his role as an International Association of Geodesy (IAG) member of the Advisory Board on the Law of the Sea (ABLOS), Sunil helped organize and attend the Board’s annual meeting and seminar, this year held in Seoul, South Korea on October 26-28.  Amongst the Board’s tasks is to host regional seminars to discussion technical issues related to the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea.  This year’s seminar was jointly hosted by ABLOS and the Korean hydrographic office (HYSK) entitled “Roles of the Law of the Sea and Hydrography in the Asian Region”.  Very interesting talks were given on topics including: maritime boundary delimitation between South Korea and China, as well as in the South China Sea, ambiguous naming conventions in southeast Asian waters, effects of new marine seismic surveys, electronic charts, and GNSS surveys in maritime jurisdictions, and the impact of sea level rise on maritime boundary delimitation.  The seminar was attended by almost 100 international participants.

By: Sunil Bisnath


Government of Canada GNSS workshop

Sunil was invited to speak and chair a panel discussion on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) innovation for the federal government.  The meeting, entitled “GNSS Vulnerabilities, Innovation, and Policy (VIP) Workshop” was organized by the GNSS Coordinate Office at Industry Canada and hosted by the Federal GNSS Coordination Board on October 21st.  Over 100 participants from foreign and Canadian government departments, academia and the private sector attended.  Topics ranged from GPS and Galileo program updates, to GPS jamming and cyberthreats, to GNSS use in critical infrastructure such as the energy, utilities and telecom sectors, to GNSS precision positioning developments, and automotive, aviation, timing, and geoscience applications.  The federal government aims to make use of such workshops to develop a national GNSS strategy.

By: Sunil Bisnath


The Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS) Visited the Geomatics Engineering Program at ESSE on November 18th-19th 2016

Our Geomatics Engineering Program is being assessed towards accreditation by The Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS). CBEPS establishes, assesses and certifies the academic qualifications of individuals who apply to become land surveyors and/or geomatics professionals in Canada, except for Ontario and Quebec. This includes becoming of Canada Land Surveyor conducting surveying in the three Canadian territories, in the Federal parks, on Aboriginal reserves, on and under the surface of Canada’s oceans. This provides further career options to our graduates besides being eligible to become licensed Professional Engineers and licensed Ontario Land Surveyors

The evaluation process started in the Summer 2016, by collecting information and submitting a questionnaire report to CBEPS addressing six main subjects: 1) Support for Students, 2) Curriculum, 3) Faculty, 4) Facilities, 5) Graduating Students, and 6) Sustainability. The information for each of subject was gathered and assembled by Professors Costas Armenakis and Mojgan Jadidi. The endless support from the Chair of Department Regina Lee, Graduate Program Director Sunil Bisnath, Associate Dean Spiros Pagiatakis, Dean Janusz Kozinski, Vice Dean Rob Allison, Accreditation Strategist Salvatore Paneduro, Accreditation work study student Sandra Sinayuk and Elise Shaw, our Administrative Assistant, was remarkable. All documents were submitted on October 7th, 2016.

ESSE hosted the on-site visit of CBEPS visiting team on November 18-19, 2016. During the on-site visit, CBEPS members met all course directors and Geomatics Engineering students. Also, they visited the computer and equipment lab facilities, lectures halls including PSE 133, the libraries, the Bergeron building and the students’ lounge.

We expect to hear back from CBEPS in the next couple of months. The CBEPS visiting team acknowledged the ESSE hospitality and the well-organized documentation of CBEPS requirements and course binders. Last not least, this visit could not be successful without the support of all Faculty members of the Geomatics Engineering program for providing their course material and meeting with the CBEPS visitors and our administrative and technical staff.

By: Costas Armenakis and Mojgan Jadidi