Welcome Mojgan: An Interview

Full name: Amaneh Jadidi is my full name but I prefer everyone calls me Mojgan—that’s the name my mother gave me.

Where did you work before ESSE? I did my post-doc here since September 2014, but I was also an intern for Metrolinx for 8 months beginning November 2015. I did my PhD at the University of Laval in Quebec; I did my PhD thesis in Geospatial Data Cube Design for Risk Assessment. I lived there for 6 years and in my time there, I had my daughter Amytis. Before that, I did my Master’s in France and Italy.

What did you find the most challenging when you moved to Quebec?  French as a language was difficult to work and learn in as it’s so different from my mother tongue, but I believe that with practice and patience, you can do anything.

What’s a big difference you’ve noticed between Laval and York? Laval was mostly French and French-Canadians and it’s much more multicultural here, even at the faculty level. It’s nice because you never feel ‘alone’.

What did you like best about TAing at Laval? Being with the students, it was interesting to see the amount of effort they put into understanding and their willingness to learn. They can really make you think in a different way as well.

Which courses will you be teaching? Adjustment Calculus and Advanced Geospatial Technique.

If you could create any course at York, which course would you create? I’d love to do a Geospatial database design course here.

Which part of teaching is most exciting to you? Working with students, challenging them, and sparking their curiosity.

Favourite thing about York? It’s like a family, which I really like about Lassonde—people care about you and your role and there are a lot of opportunities for growth.

Favourite building at York? The Bergeron—I worked with the BIM  so I was working for a while with the data that was to be turned into the building. I like going there and knowing that I’m seeing all of the data that I worked with, realized.

What’s a big lesson you’ve learned during your time at York? Never give up.

What’s your pet peeve? Messy labs and rooms.

Favourite Quote? “Wherever you go, there you are”.

Favourite Colour? Red.

Favourite Food? Anything with pesto!

Favourite movie? Pride and Prejudice: the Hollywood version is nice, but my favourite is the BBC series.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose? 18, that’s the age you choose your university and your major. For me, that’s the age where I really learned to be independent as I had to move out and go to a different city. You have energy, a desire for adventure, and a fresh mind—it’s a golden age.

Do you have any hobbies? Photography, travelling… I’m terrible at sports!

Where would you like to travel to?  Italy for sure—Florence. The food, wine, weather are all good and the people are nice. It’s extraordinary North to South.

Summer/Winter, Apple/PC, Coffee/Tea, Ketchup/Mustard/Relish.


3 Summer Courses offered by ESSE this year

ESSE 2630 – Field Surveys

by S. Bisnath

This end of second year practical field surveys course grew from its typical dozen or so Geomatics Engineering and Geomatics Science students to over sixty students with the addition of Civil Engineering students.  Planning and good TAs made all the difference.  As most of you witnessed, the northeastern quadrant of the Keele Campus was very busy with two weeks of surveying.  Students worked from 8 am to dusk (and later), seven days a week on field measurements, calculations, reporting and map generation to produce topographic plans for 14 buildings on campus.  While students always complain about the long hours and amount of work, the vast majority of the class recognized how much they learned and the real-world value of their training both in terms of technical and professional skills development.

ESSE 2210—Engineering and the Environment

by W. Colgan

This new course was offered for the first time this summer. Approximately forty students enrolled in the initial J2 session offering to learn about environmental sustainability. The course provides students with exposure to the social aspects of large infrastructure projects, including the environmental assessment and stakeholder consultation processes, with strong climate change mitigation and adaptation themes. Development of the 36 AU 100% complementary studies course, which provide an alternative to ENVS 2150  for student to satisfy CEAB attributes, was guided by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations’ Committee on Engineering and the Environment strategic plan. ESSE will offer the course once more during the academic year Fall or Winter terms.

ESSE 3660—Advanced Field Surveys was also offered.

ESSE’s participation in CASI

After the Canadian Space Agency, York has the largest delegation at this conference – most of whom are young researchers ranging from undergraduates through graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. This has not gone unnoticed amongst the conference organizers and participants.

That’s important because this is a venue where we can really have an impact. We’ve heard from the heads of the CSA and ESA and senior officials of NASA. In particular, the Canadian Space Agency representatives, including our newest astronaut, have been attending far more than just their keynote presentations. We also have an excellent cross-section of industry present, allowing us opportunities to further cement our collaborations.

Our role goes far beyond mere presence. Several among us have taken a leadership role with representation on the organizing committee, the CASI council, and in chairing sessions (in some of the themes we represent 2/3rds of the chairs). Much of the content of those sessions are provided by us as well. Collectively, we are giving 19 presentations, more than 10% of the 150 total papers being presented. These projects span a large range of research areas from instrumentation to optical tools and techniques, through planetary science, remote sensing, space mission design, microgravity technology and more. This conference is a tangible demonstration that our diversity in research truly is our strength as a department.

Last, but certainly not least, the excellence of our research is being recognized at a high level, with Mike Daly presenting this year’s prestigious Turnbull Lecture to close the conference.

by J. Moores

NASA Firn Cover expedition

Greenland Ice Sheet

by L. Colgan

I am participating in the annual NASA Firn Cover expedition to the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is led by the University of Colorado. We spend about five weeks on the ice sheet, snowmobiling and flying around to sample the “firn” of the ice sheet. The “firn” is the porous near-surface layer of the ice sheet, it is about a 60 m thick layer in which snow transitions into ice. We take cores through this layer as well as maintain automated stations that measure how fast the firn is compacting. Generally, firn is compacting faster in a warmer climate, and if you don’t correct satellite observations of ice sheet volume for this effect, it could appear as though the ice sheet is getting smaller (when in fact the near-surface layers of the ice sheet are just getting denser). We arrived on the ice sheet by C-130 military aircraft at a former DEW-line site that the military still uses called Dye-2, or Camp Raven. We then snowmobiled about 600 km to service five stations roughly along the Arctic Circle. After out snowmobile traverse we serviced more northern sites (up to 76°N) by Twin Otter from Summit Station. Summit Station is at 3200 m elevation, so you notice the shortness of breath coming from Ontario. Less an issue for my Colorado colleagues. We have had our share of weather days, sitting out storms that blow a consistent 40 knots, but we are generally in good spirits and enjoying good meals. I have tweeted a couple images to Lassonde students encouraging them to take my ESSE2210 course this spring semester, and learn a little more about climate change.


Air Quality

Between July 5th and 15th, the Air Quality Research Lab ran on-road vehicle chasing experiments in order to investigate how pollutants released from quickly moving vehicles mix with the surrounding air.  Prof. Peter Taylor’s generously loaned SUV was oufitted with a sonic anemometer to measure wind speed and turbulence, a Licor open-path high-speed sampler to measure CO2 and water vapour, and a UHSAS aerosol sizer, which counts and sizes airbourne particles with diameters between 70 nm and 1 micron.  A dash-cam was used to determine the distance to the vehicle being followed (typically heavy-duty tractor-trailers, buses, or SUVs), and also to provide GPS for the calculation of position, speed, and orientation.  Software to triangulate the distance from the videos was specially developed by PhD student Julien Li-Chee-Meng (Prof. Costas Armenakis).

MSc student Stefan Miller (supervised by Prof. Mark Gordon and Prof. Rob Mclaren) leads the investigation and is responsible for operating the instruments during the drives.  Analysis of this unique data set (possibly the first attempt at on-road CO2 and particle fluxes from vehicles on the highway) will help us understand how the mixing of vehicle emissions are enhaced by the turbulence that moving vehicles create.  It may also allow us to track the high-speed evolution of particulate emissions.  Driving support was provided by MSc student Sepehr Fathi (M. Gordon) and RA Zheng Qi Wang (P. Taylor). LURA student Brandon Loy (M. Gordon) provided help with installation and set up.



by M. Gordon

ENG 4350 Winter Semester Field Trip to ARO

ARO_May2The annual ENG 4350 field trip to ARO was highly successful this year as all lab groups were able to track not only GPS satellites, but also GLONASS, Galileo and Beidou satellites as well.  The weather was excellent during the stay and the students had time to see the ARO facility (as well as a bit of Algonquin park).  Thanks to Thoth for once again hosting the class and also to Jennifer Gao for her technical support.

by H. Chesser

Welcome Elise: An Interview

This June, we welcomed Elise to the position of administrative assistant for the department. We wanted to find out a bit more about our newest addition, so we went ahead to ask her a couple of questions!

Full name: Lindsey Elise Armstrong. I go by  Elise, my middle name.

Where did you work before ESSE? I’ve been at York for 13 years. I started in Founders College, then moved to Sociology as the Secretary to the Chair and worked as a Graduate Program Assistant as well. I was also a Secretary to the Chair in the English department and more recently, I held the same position in Social Science.

Favourite thing about York? The endless opportunities for staff, students, and faculty, for involvement both within the York community and externally. I’m really excited to be a part of this department and I look forward to meeting everyone!

Favourite building at York? The Bergeron or Vari Hall, because of the open windows. I like buildings like Petrie, which is smaller, because I feel like it results in a more close knit group.

What’s a big lesson you’ve learned during your time at York? Students will do anything for free food.

What’s your pet peeve? I can’t stand a messy desk!

Favourite Quote? “The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you have come” – Unknown

Favourite Colour? Purple.

Favourite Food? Chocolate!

Favourite Store? RW & Co

Favourite movie? The minions movie, they’re so cute.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose? In my 30s because I feel there’s a certain level of security, maturity, and direction at that age.

Summer/Winter, Apple/PC, Coffee/Tea, Heels/Flats, Ketchup/Mustard/Relish.

Agribot Seminar: Enabling Agricultural Robotics with Space Hardware Technology

On Thursday June 30, ESSE hosted a seminar from Dr. Mark Post, about agricultural robotics and space hardware technology.

Worldwide, it is now accepted that agricultural productivity will have to increase by 25% to allow limited arable land to meet a doubling of demand by 2050, and agricultural robotics is essential to allow real-time and accurate monitoring and response for increasing yields, lowering production overheads, and maintaining the environment. To meet the significant challenge of autonomously roving and tending large fields with robots, we are now making use of technology conceived for space robotics and autonomous planetary surveying tasks to create an automated robotic system known as “Agribot” that includes the use of a ground station, unmanned ground vehicle, and unmanned aerial vehicle. The main tasks of the Agribot are to autonomously map and visually monitor large farm areas, to obtain high-density soil spectrometry measurements via a portable LIBS system, and allow farmers to interact with plants via a tele-operated haptic arm. The current challenge for the Agribot is to improve farming practices in China, which due to its population density is in critical need of technologies to lower fertilizer and pesticide use while increasing environmental awareness.

Dr. Post received his B.A.Sc. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Toronto in 2004 and his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Space Science and Engineering from York University in 2008 and 2014. He is currently a research lecturer in the Space Mechatronics Systems Technology Laboratory (SMeSTech) at the University of Strathclyde. His research interests and experience include machine vision for navigation and recognition, embedded architectures for intelligent sensing and control of mobile rovers, and design of mechatronic systems in both Earth and Space environments.

Asteroids, podcast on the CBC

Click here to listen to the original podcast.

On June 2, 2016, NASA confirmed the bright burst of light over Arizona skies to be an asteroid exploding — a mere 90 kilometers above the earth. This came just a few days after another asteroid event in Mexico, where sonic booms and bright flashes marked an asteroid’s entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

These recent close calls have brought attention to those scientific voices urging the world to pay more attention to asteroids, and the threat they pose.

‘[Stopping an asteroid from hitting us] would certainly be in my view one of the most momentous events in human history.’ – Brent Barbee, Aerospace Engineer with NASA

On The Current, the likelihood of a catastrophic asteroid hitting Earth is discussed, the impact it would have, and the work that is being done to avoid such an event.

‘We actually have in principle the means and the technology to stop one of these asteroids from hitting us.’ –  Brent Barbee, Aerospace Engineer with NASA

  • Michael Daly, York University research chair in Planetary Science, and lead scientist on a NASA asteroid mission.
  • Brent Barbee, an Aerospace Engineer with NASA.


Open Your Mind: A Q&A with glacier researcher William Colgan

William Colgan, a professor in the Lassonde School of Engineering. Colgan studies glacier-climate interactions. He has just returned from a 36-day expedition to the Greenland ice sheet as part of the NASA FirnCover research team. Firn is the near surface layer of the ice sheet that covers 80 per cent of the surface of Greenland. While on the expedition, Colgan collected data to measure how firn density is changing in response to climate change.

William Colgan

Q. Please describe your field of current research.

A. I study glacier-climate interactions. I just returned from a 36-day expedition to the Greenland ice sheet as part of the NASA FirnCover research team. Firn is the relatively porous near-surface layer of the ice sheet. We travelled south-to-north on the ice sheet collecting shallow core samples and deploying instrumentation to measure how firn density is changing in response to climate change. Satellite observations can be used to document how quickly the ice sheet is thinning, but in situ data is needed to understand what fraction of this thinning is due to increasing firn density over time, rather than true ice loss.

Q. What inspired you to pursue this line of research? Who or what sparked your interest in this line of inquiry?

A. I travelled to Nunavut to work as a hydrology assistant one summer during my undergraduate degree. The High Arctic was big and new to me. Passing through Resolute Bay, I met some University of Alberta glaciologists. I had had a wonderful time that summer, but they had even better stories and photos. So two years later I began an MSc degree in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences with that group at the University of Alberta.

Q. How would you describe the significance of your research in lay terms?

A. Glaciers are now a charismatic symbol of the rapidity and magnitude of climate change. Increasing mean sea level globally, as well as decreasing water resources in many regions, make understanding glacier-climate interactions a pressing topic. My sense is that the glaciology community feels an urgency to its work, which is evident in a move away from hypothesis-based research toward objective-based research. For example, 30 years ago people were saying “why does a glacier behave that way?” but now people are saying “tell me how that glacier will behave.”

Q. How are you approaching this field in a different, unexpected or unusual way?

A. Working with the FirnCover team, we are trying to bridge the divide between in situ sampling and satellite measurements. As in many fields of the earth sciences, the vastly different spatial scales and techniques used in field versus satellite science can make it hard to bridge the gap between people comfortable deploying field instrumentation and those running big-data algorithms on higher performance computers. On the FirnCover team, researchers do both. The same hands that deploy sensors also debug numerical code. This makes our team really aware of the strengths and weaknesses of both the in situ and satellite data.

Q. How does your approach to the subject benefit the field?

A. Right now the field data and subsequent algorithm improvements coming from the FirnCover expeditions represent the best opportunity to correctly calibrate the Greenland ice sheet mass loss assessed by the NASA ICESat-2 and ESA CryoSat-2 altimetry satellites. This means many researchers are closely following the hybrid field-code approach of the FirnCover team.

Researchers service one of PROMICE’s automatic weather stations on the Greenland ice sheet that was used in the study. Photo by William Colgan, York University

Q. What findings have surprised and excited you? (i.e. tell us about the most interesting finding, person and/or place you encountered while pursuing your research.)

A. On our FirnCover 2016 expedition we visited the new EastGRIP drilling project in far northeast Greenland. EastGRIP is a European collaboration to drill the sixth deep ice core through to the bed of the Greenland ice sheet. We were on site installing FirnCover instruments and collecting data, but we had a chance to visit the tunnel network they are constructing for the four-year drilling campaign. It was a very unique exposure to the people and infrastructure involved in a Tier-1 international research collaboration.

Q. Every researcher, from novice to experienced, encounters roadblocks and challenges during the process of inquiry, can you highlight some of those challenges and how you overcame them?

A. Weather seems to be the biggest challenge to any expedition to the Greenland ice sheet. Storm periods, when we are tent-bound for one to several days, clearly limit our ability to collect data. But there can also be knock-on scheduling effects related to weather, like when a charter aircraft is delayed at a different site due to weather elsewhere. Responding to weather challenges can require some serious flexibility. One evening at Summit Station during FirnCover 2016 we received notice at 2200 hours advising that our plane was being recalled back to the coast at 0800 to escape an approaching storm. (There is no hanger at Summit, so aircraft can be rather exposed just sitting on the ice sheet.) We still had some work to do, so we worked through to the wee hours of the morning. It was -32 degrees C that night and we were slightly short of breath at 3,200 m elevation, but the FirnCover team appreciated that collecting the data was paramount.

Ice sheet

Q. How has this research opened your mind to new possibilities or new directions?

A. As I have delved deeper into the historical literature associated with ice sheet research, I have become increasingly interested in leveraging well-documented legacy data for new purposes. For example, the US Army Corps of Engineers produced an abundant volume of ice sheet and climate data during their Cold War-era attempt to colonize the ice sheet with roads and bases. The FirnCover team is starting to pore through these documents with fresh eyes and finding some true research gems. For example, the predilection of the Army Engineers to collect firn density profiles for structural analysis for building on the firn is proving to be a very useful source of firn density records. Tracking down and digitizing these legacy data are allowing us to directly compare our 2010s observations of firn structure to 1960s baseline observations.


Q. Are you teaching any courses this year? If so, what are they? Do you bring your research experience into your teaching practice?

A. I am teaching Dynamic Earth and Space Geodesy (ESSE1010) in the fall of 2016. I  spend half the course sharing my fondness of satellites with the students. I want them to appreciate the different orbitals and sensors, and understand that the Hollywood penchant for depicting scenes with a downward-looking video feed is just not possible from satellites orbiting at two km per second. Since it is a first-year survey course, I limit cryospheric content to about 10 per cent. I am also teaching Climate and Climate Change (ESSE4160) in the fall of 2016. I spend virtually the entire course going through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report with students so they can craft an informed understanding of not only the processes studies and data types used by the IPCC, but also the consensus-based deliberative political framework in which the volumes are crafted. Since it is a fourth-year specialized course, it more strongly reflects my research interests than my first-year course. I will be blending FirnCover 2016 photos and stories in with material from previous expeditions in both these courses.