ESSE Summer BBQ 2017

On July 12th, 2017, ESSE faculty, staff, and graduate students gathered together for yet another annual ESSE Summer BBQ.

Under the burning July sun, Team Rainbow and Team Shirts confronted each other on the soccer field. Team Rainbow bore the palm, yet the final score remains unknown…

The soccer game was followed by the delicious lunch at The Orange Snail.


York Athabasca Jack Pine Tower Field Work Update

At approximately 100 ft,  the tower reaches as high as the surrounding canopy. (Photo Credit: Mark Gordon)

At approximately 100 ft,
the tower reaches as high as the surrounding canopy.
(Photo Credit: Mark Gordon)

Earth and Space Science Masters student Tim (Kaiti) Jiang and supervisor Mark Gordon spent the last two weeks of July installing an instrumented 30m tall telescoping  tower in Northern Alberta.

The York Athabasca Jack Pine (YAJP) tower is situated in the middle of the boreal forest north of Fort McMurray, surrounded by oil sands mining and upgrading  facilities.  Measurements on the tower include aerosols, black carbon, dust and particulate, ozone, CO2, radiation (PAR, UV, SW, and LW), temperature, moisture, winds, and turbulence.

The tower will remain in the forest for at least a year and will send data back to York with a cellular modem.  This study will help us understand how pollutants from the oil sands facilities interact with the forest environment and how turbulence and pollutant mixing develops in forest canopies.

Featured image: MSc student Tim Jiang and contractor Mike Solohub prepare to install the tower.

By: Mark Gordon

Tim works to set up instruments and download data at the tower base.  (Photo Credit: Mark Gordon)

Tim works to set up instruments and download data at the tower base.
(Photo Credit: Mark Gordon)


Talking Mars in Montréal

From July 17-19, three members of Prof. John Moores’ Planetary Volatiles Laboratory – PDF Dr. Christina Smith, MSc. Candidate Charissa Campbell and Undergraduate Researcher Brittney Cooper – attended the semi-annual Science Team Meeting of the Mars Science Laboratory Rover (better known as Curiosity). For the first time since Curiosity’s successful landing in August of 2012 the meeting was back on Canadian soil at the CSA’s headquarters in St. Hubert, just outside of Montréal. Over 400 scientists work on the $2.5 Billion mission, supporting daily operations, designing experiments using the spacecraft’s 10 primary instruments (plus 12 engineering cameras) and analyzing the data returned. More than 100 of these researchers from around the world made the trek out to the CSA to attend in person.

While the majority of the scientists who work on the mission have a geological focus, there are a few of us who specialize in the modern Martian environment. The particular speciality of the PVL group is atmospheric imaging using the rover’s Engineering Cameras.  Presentations by the York-based group on our results discussing clouds, dust, winds and the chemistry of the atmosphere were well received by other members of the Team. We also identified ways in which the atmospheric scientists and the geologists can work together to enhance our understanding of Martian processes, past and present.

Five years and 17 km into its mission, the rover remains healthy despite some dents, tears and a patina of dust. While the robot is showing its age, with that age comes wisdom. To date, we have published nearly 300 papers including several dozen in high impact venues such as Science, Nature and Geophysical Research Letters. For a sampling of these results, click here. Even as these results continue to pour in, there are still important discoveries that await us as we climb higher still along the flank of Aeolus Mons.

By: John Moores

WINDII Airglow Observations of Wave Superposition and the Possible Association with Historical “Bright Nights”

Gordon Shepherd and Young-Min Cho recently submitted to Geophysical Research Letters a paper entitled “WINDII Airglow Observations of Wave Superposition and the Possible Association with Historical ‘Bright Nights’” which appeared on July 4th. Bright nights is the name given to those nights which should be dark, with no moon, and yet they are bright enough to allow observers to see their surroundings, or distant objects, or even read a newspaper. These have been reported from Roman times, for example by Pliny the Elder, who wrote, “The phenomenon commonly called “nocturnal sun”, i.e., a light emanating from the sky during the night, has been seen during the consulate of C. Caecilius and Cn. Papirius (~ 113 BCE), and many other times, giving an appearance of day during the night”. These reports continue in the European literature up until World War I, but afterwards fade away as the use of artificial light increases. Limited scientific observations began then, during which the name “bright nights” was applied, but there has never been an explanation of their origin.

The Wind Imaging Interferometer (WINDII) was launched in 1991 and it was seen immediately that the 557.7 nm atomic oxygen airglow was extremely variable, from place to place and one night to the next. This “airglow” emission is caused by the photo-dissociation of O2 in the daytime by solar ultraviolet radiation, followed by the recombination of the atomic oxygen during which the energy released emerges as green line photons. Some years later it was recognized that there might be a relation to “bright nights”, but without any obvious explanation of the mechanism. However, in the meantime there were WINDII studies of the longitudinal wind and airglow intensity variations, leading to a resolution of longitudinal waves 1, 2, 3 and 4, where the number indicates the number of waves around the Earth at a given latitude. Early this year Young-Min discovered that from time to time the peaks in these propagating waves could coincide, causing a large peak in intensity at a given longitude, and that this could explain the bright nights. WINDII observed such events 7% of the time for the whole Earth, but at a given limited location the probability would be only 10% of this, and allowing for full moon periods means that the bright nights would be observed only once per year. The fact that they were reported so frequently centuries ago can be accounted for by the fact that the whole population was living with dark nights and so when a bright night occurred anywhere over land, it would be reported.

Geophysical Research Letters identified this as an article of public interest and created a press release that has kept Gordon busy on the phone and in e-mails since then. The story was picked up by the New York Times, the CBC, and from them by The Guardian, as well as in many other places such as the India Times and Korean newspapers. He also heard from individuals, one in particular who told the story told to him by his grandfather, who was playing football with his friends after dinner in 1908. They played and played and when the grandfather got home he was chastised by his parents for staying up until midnight. He protested that he didn’t know it was midnight as he didn’t have a watch, and it was still light. This experience stayed with him for decades as he didn’t tell it to his grandson (the writer) until much later. Gordon confirmed with the grandson that it was almost certainly a bright night.

The Guardian article can be found here.

The article includes a beautiful photo of the sky (see featured image) at night taken from the Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, near where Gordon was born – but it is not a bright night. The whole experience has been a surprise to the authors and a bit of a puzzle as to why there is such public interest. Probably it is the historical part, which has a human content, and the fact that bright nights are no longer being seen (at least not reported) owing to the environment change of artificial lights. Like some animal species, perhaps they have gone forever, for the public.

By: Gordon Shepherd


Geomatics Engineering Program Receives Level-2 CBEPS Accreditation

We just received the Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS) final report. We are pleased to announce that our Geomatics Engineering program awarded a Level-2 CBEPS accreditation in meeting the CBEPS national syllabus subjects. 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.

Professional cadastral surveying in Canada is regulated by individual statutes in the ten Canadian provinces and by the Canada Lands Surveys Act for Canada Lands. In general, Canada Lands consist of the Northern Territories, Indian Reserves, National Parks and Canada’s Offshore areas. In order to practice cadastral surveying at the professional level in Canada, an individual must be commissioned and/or licensed by the provincial surveying association in the province where one wishes to practice, and in the case of Canada Lands, by the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors (ACLS).

To get their CBEPS Certificate of Completion, graduates from our Geomatics Engineering program will have to write the CBEPS examinations C10 (Land Use Planning and the Economics of Land Development) and C12 (Hydrographic Surveying).

By: Costas Armenakis

An Interview: Prof. Jinjun Shan

Prof. Jinjun Shan (Photo credit: Lassonde School of Engineering)

Prof. Jinjun Shan
(Photo credit: Lassonde School of Engineering)

What is your educational background?

I have obtained all of my degrees – B.Eng., M.Eng., and Ph.D. – from Harbin Institute of Technology in China. Prior to coming to York, I worked as a PDF at University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace studies (UTIAS).

What is your most memorable project?

It is definitely the balloon flight (two flights actually – in Sweden and Australia). I’m a space engineer, mostly working on theoretical topics. The balloon project was the first time I developed and flew an actual instrument in a real space mission.

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

I’d create an advanced dynamics control course. When I was a graduate student, I had to take two courses on this topic; UofT students take two courses as well. Similarly, in my undergrad, I had a whole year course on dynamics control of spacecraft. Yet, at York, we only have 1 term of dynamics and control for Space Engineering students – this is definitely not enough. In addition, we only teach classical control systems, but it is just the first step – we need to add modern control systems to the curriculum.

Which part of teaching is most exciting to you?

I’m happy if I can teach a student something “hands on”, and they can solve a problem with something they learned from the class – whether it is dynamics, control, or electronics.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like: York gives me an opportunity to do my own research.

Dislike: It is too slow: the processes are too slow; if you need something, you have to ask for it too many times; we don’t have concrete policies for many things.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like: York gives me an opportunity to do my own research.

Dislike: It is too slow: the processes are too slow; if you need something, you have to ask for it too many times; we don’t have concrete policies for many things.

Favourite building at York?

Petrie, because my office and lab are here. It is also better than most buildings in terms of the size and air conditioning.

Favourite quote?

“The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Chinese Proverb

Favourite Lassonde color?  Yellow

Favourite food?  Noodles

Favourite movie? I like “Transformers” – I have watched all of them with my son.

Favourite book? My favourite book is Three Kingdoms.

What do you do in your free time?

I like playing badminton.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose and why?

My son’s age, 10-12 years old, because you don’t have to worry about anything and can simply enjoy your life.

Where would you like to travel to?

I have travelled a lot for my work. Previously, I wanted to go to Australia the most, but I have already travelled there for the balloon flight. Now, I’d like to go to South America (Brazil, Argentina), since I have still never been there.

Bucket list items?

I want to travel as much as possible.

Choose one:

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

Denis Hains Talks about the Oceans Protection Plan of Canada

By: Costas Armenakis

On May 9th, 2017, Denis Hains, Director General, Canadian Hydrographic Service, gave a presentation on  the Oceans Protection Plan of Canada. He addressed how this investment of the Government of Canada is a great opportunity that can benefit Academia, HQP and YorkU’s participation to the Canadian Ocean Mapping Research & Education Network (COMREN). Geomatics Engineering / Science programs and YorkU are one of the eight  academic signatories of the MOU.

On the photo right to left:  Dr. Costas Armenakis, Associate Professor & Program Director Geomatics Engineering-Department of Earth, Space Sciences & Engineering-Lassonde School of Engineering, York University; Dr. Spiros Pagiatakis, Associate Dean Research & Graduate Studies-Lassonde School of Engineering, York University; Denis Hains, DG DFO-Science Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS), Ottawa Office; Dr. Richard Hornsey, Interim Dean – Lassonde School of Engineering, York University; George Schlagintweit, Manager National Projects, CHS Burlington Office (BO); and, Tom Rowsell, Acting Director CHS, BO (Photo Credit: Costas Armenakis)

An Interview: Dr. Sunil Bisnath

Dr. Sunil Bisnath (Photo Credit:

Dr. Sunil Bisnath
(Photo Credit:

What is your educational background?

I obtained a BSc and an MSc in Surveying Science at University of Toronto, and a PhD in Geomatics Engineering from the University of New Brunswick.

What is your most memorable project?

The first one that comes to mind is a project that I worked on as a PhD student: assessing GPS-based helicopter approaches on an 80-storey oil platform under construction in a Newfoundland harbour.

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

A multi-sensor integration course. Students will take different sensors, e.g., GPS, inertial, optical, etc. and integrate them physically and with optimal estimation code in order to produce positioning and orientation solutions. Actually, soon this course will be introduced as a fourth-year technical elective, possibly integrated with a graduate component.

Which part of teaching is most exciting to you?

Being in the lectures, interacting with students, and seeing them learn through understanding the concepts.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like: The learning environment – to see students learn, but also learning new things myself. Coming in every day and doing so many various tasks has always made the job interesting from my first day at York.

Dislike: Administration and bureaucracy. We work to try to change (fix, improve) things, but intuitional change is always difficult.

Favourite building at York?

I don’t know about favourite, but I think that the coolest building is the new York University Subway Station.

What’s your pet peeve?

Stupidity in general – on the roads, on the news, etc. Another one is ignorance –  when people aren’t even trying to understand something.

Favorite quote?

“Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.” – Albert Einstein

Favorite Lassonde colour?  

Blue I guess; it is the colour of our department.

Favorite food?  

Almost everything! It’s easier to say what I don’t like – quinoa, for example.

Favorite movie?

“It’s a Wonderful Life”. It’s an old Christmas movie that basically says that life is not that bad at all.

What do you do in your free time?

Work! But, if its an answer, playing with my now five year old son and seeing him learn … everything.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose and why?

I would just be my age, as I’ve never had a problem of being too old or too young.

Where would you like to travel to?

Luckily, with my job, I have travelled to many places already. I would like to go to Antarctica, as it’s the only continent I have yet to visit. I don’t know if I want to stay there for too long though! I also want to go to all the other continents again … and again.

A few items from your bucket list?

I would love to go on Safari in Africa with my son for him to see what I saw previously. I also want to visit every single national park in Canada with him son. We have already started, and we are visiting a few more parks this summer, but there are a lot of national parks!

Another item is to find that elusive work-life balance and to maintain it.

Interesting fact about yourself?

I was born in Trinidad.

Anything you would like to add?

I like what we’re doing, and I hope we can further improve the student experience and ESSE community.


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


Mars Rover Spots Clouds Shaped by Gravity Waves

Even though NASA’s Curiosity rover mostly focuses on Mars’s bedrock, every few days it observes the sky. Last summer, the rover has shot the first ground-based view of Martian clouds shaped by gravity waves as recently reported at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. These shots are the best record made so far of a mysterious recurring belt of equatorial clouds known to influence the martial climate.

“Understanding these clouds will help inform estimates of ground ice depth and perhaps recurring slope lineae, potential flows of salty water on the surface,” says John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada, who led the study with his graduate student, Jake Kloos. “If we wish to understand the water story of Mars’s past,” Moores says, “we first need to [separate out] contributions from the present-day water cycle.”

During Curiosity’s 1302th  martian day, it saw a sequence of straight, parallel rows of clouds flowing in the same direction, known as gravity wave clouds. Not to be confused with gravitational waves, gravity waves are atmospheric ripples that result from air trying to regain its vertical balance. Similar to the waves that follow a pebble tossed into a pond, gravity waves are created when some unknown feature of the martian landscape causes a ripple in the atmosphere that is then seen in clouds. Such waves are common at the edge of the martian ice caps, but thought to be less frequent over its equator.

It is not certain those are gravity waves, however. They could also be “cloud sheets”, a similar looking pattern that’s potentially associated with strong winds striking heated air parcels as they near the top of the lower atmosphere.

 Read the full article here

Adopted from  the article by Paul Voosen in “Science Magazine”


An Interview: Dr. Spiros Pagiatakis


Dr. Spiros Pagiatakis (Photo Credit: Lassonde School of Engineering)


What is your educational background?

I have a degree in Surveying Engineering (which is now called Geomatics Engineering) from Greece (Athens) and higher degrees (MScE and PhD) in Geodesy and Geodynamics from University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

What is your most memorable project?

I greatly enjoy all projects I work on, so it is difficult to choose… One of the most memorable ones is when I undertook the task to determine the post-glacial rebound signature using legacy gravity measurements, which were taken over 50 to 60 years period.

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

I would create an open course, which would bring together science, engineering, arts, humanities, and social sciences,  to demonstrate that there are no boundaries among these disciplines.

Which part of teaching is most exciting to you?

It is definitely interactive teaching and “flipped classroom” concept, where the students take over the learning process. I simply don’t like monologues.

Can you tell us about blended learning?

Blended learning takes a step away from simple traditional teaching from the podium, which I consider a one-way communication. Learning has to be experienced through a variety of activities, such as projects, lectures, interactive and experiential learning, etc. These are all different learning modes, taken from our daily experiences – when we listen to seminars, interact with people, work on projects… basically, the way life teaches us on a daily basis.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like:  The students and the diversity of cultures.

Dislike: Micromanagement and bureaucracy.

Favorite building at York?

Bergeron, because it is relatively open to interactive learning.

What’s your pet peeve?

Get off your cellphone and texting, be social and interact face-to-face! Turn it off  when in class, at a social gathering, at a restaurant, in meetings…

Favorite quote?

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” By Albert Einstein

Favorite Lassonde colour?

Blue, the colour of our department.

Favorite food? 

I love food in general!

Favorite movie?

I don’t watch many movies, but I prefer light ones, such as “Mama Mia”.

What do you do in your free time?

I normally work on cars or work at home building things.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose and why?

I would choose thirties, because this would give me enough time to do all the things I want to do.

Where would you like to travel to?

I’d like to go to exotic islands in the Atlantic, Pacific, Caribbean, etc.

Interesting fact about yourself?

I don’t need much sleep, I don’t get tired, and I can go for a long time without food.


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