Articles tagged as: College of Geosciences

August 8, 2012

Raindrops Can Be Different Shapes

Q:  You see on cartoons that raindrops usually appear like a teardrop. Are they really shaped that way?

A: Not really, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. The common appearance of raindrops being shaped like a big tear is not very accurate, he notes. “Literature has frequently told us that raindrops are often tears from above, and thus are shaped like a teardrop. But that’s not the case. The shape of a raindrop depends on its size. Small raindrops are actually spherical in shape and they take on different shapes as they fall to the ground. The larger ones are often compared to the shape of a hamburger bun. This is caused by air resistance on the drop as it falls to earth.”

raindrops on glass

Raindrop shapes can vary

Q: Are larger raindrops shaped the same?

A: Large raindrops often split in two because of their size, McRoberts adds. “When a raindrop gets to be large, it assumes a shape that is similar to a small parachute, with a larger area around its base,” he explains. “When this happens, the raindrop is so large that it splits into several smaller drops. A larger raindrop naturally falls to earth faster than a smaller one, but it still takes a while. For example, a large raindrop that fell from a cloud at 5,000 feet would take about three minutes to reach you on the ground. Some raindrops can actually be different colors because of sand or other materials that collect in them.”


Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.

July 9, 2012

Geosciences Professor Develops System To Better Predict Droughts

A Texas A&M geography professor is developing a drought-prediction system that benefits everyone from a rancher in South Texas to a weekend gardener in Kansas. Steven Quiring has received a $486,000 award from the National Science Foundation to develop the first soil-moisture dataset for the Great Plains, one of the country’s most fertile but fickle climate regions.


Quiring is developing a drought-prediction system that will benefit people across the country.

In the United States, the Great Plains stretch from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border. Its annual agricultural production yields than $40 billion a year, a number that can be decimated in just one season. The 1988 drought, for instance, resulted in a $30 billion loss, so the ability to pinpoint the moisture in the soil at any given time and place will help scientists better predict drought conditions and take steps to lessen its effects.

The content of moisture in the soil plays a critical role, Quiring says, in the global carbon cycle, and in weather and climate patterns. Drier soil means less moisture escapes into the atmosphere, triggering more radiant heat returned to the soil and exacerbating already dry conditions. “In other words, drought begets drought.”

Soil characteristics such as compactness, vegetation, and the angle of slopes and subsequent run-off further complicate the picture. “Knowing the amount of moisture in the soil at any given time is one of the keys to predicting oncoming droughts,” Quiring says.

Quiring explains that systematically gathering soil-moisture information varies across the region. “We have scattered observation stations, but by building a common dataset that covers a vast expanse gives us the tools to monitor drought conditions across the entire region.”

Quiring is first collecting and performing quality controls on existing observation stations, something that has never been done. The collected data will also be used to help calibrate and validate estimates of soil-moisture content made from satellites and global climate models.

The soil moisture database will be available to the worldwide community, and the applications are innumerable. “The agricultural, recreational, and land and water management enterprises are obvious beneficiaries,” he says. But the application will also be useful to scientists in numerous disciplines as well as agencies such as NASA and national climate modeling centers. Quiring also sees a global benefit. “This approach can be adapted to local and regional areas around the world,” he notes.

The five-year study also gives Texas A&M students a unique opportunity to develop research projects in drought monitoring and forecasting. In addition, Quiring teaches a freshman seminar class on drought science and is developing a learning community devoted to the subject. “These measures involve students in one of the grand challenges facing society today,” he says.

According to the National Science Foundation, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers the organization’s most prestigious awards. The grants support young teacher-scholars across the country who show the most promise in integrating research with educational opportunities. Quiring has received teaching awards from The Association of Former Students and was selected as a Montague Scholar by the Center for Teaching Excellence. He currently teaches a popular course, Planet Earth and conducts research in hydroclimatology and applied climatology. He also has a project funded by the Department of Energy that examines the long-term risk of hurricane winds and surge to the U.S. electrical infrastructure.


Media contact: Karen Riedel, College of Geosciences, Communications Manager, at 979-845-0910



February 15, 2012

Texas A&M And UT Join Forces To Promote Geosciences


A DIG Texas student examines a fish.

Texas A&M University’s College of Geosciences has teamed up with the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin and the American Geophysical Union Office of Education and Career Services in a project to improve geoscience education for Texas high school students.

The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is known as “Diversity and Innovation for Geosciences in Texas” (DIG Texas). Led by the university’s two geosciences deans — Kate C. Miller at Texas A&M and Sharon Mosher at the Jackson School — the group has worked together to establish a community of geoscientists and educators across Texas.

“The collaboration is designed to improve opportunities at the graduate and undergraduate level by joining geosciences departments across Texas into a coherent network, and also to work toward improved geosciences literacy among Texas high school science teachers,” says Eric M. Riggs, assistant dean of Texas A&M’s College of Geosciences.

The University of Texas has a model earth and space science “capstone course” that is an option to fulfill the fourth year of science required for graduation under the state’s recommended graduation plan, explains Kathy Ellins, a geoscience education researcher at the Jackson School of Geosciences’ Institute for Geophysics.

“DIG Texas aims to boost the capacity of Texas schools to offer Earth and space science through effective teacher professional development programs that provide highly qualified earth science teachers,” she adds.

More details regarding the project are available here.

The two universities also will jointly host educators from across the state as part of long-established student recruitment programs. Texas A&M’s event is Aggieland Saturday, an open house scheduled for Feb. 18 offering information session, campus tours and other help for prospective students and their parents.

DIG Texas network representatives will be at Texas A&M Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17-18, for Aggieland Saturday and to learn more about the university’s graduate and undergraduate programs, meet geosciences faculty and talk to current students. Some of the DIG Texas group also will bring students with them.

In return, Texas A&M will participate in the University of Texas’ recruitment weekend, planned for March.


DIG Texas participants study together.

Organizers with the College of Geosciences say this collaboration gives Texas A&M the opportunity to showcase its collective programs and present a unified vision of the geosciences in Texas.

They add that the partnering universities have the flagship geosciences programs in Texas and are recognized nationally and internationally for excellence in both science and education. In addition, the American Geophysical Union sets a national standard of excellence in geosciences research and education.

Both institutions have long histories of initiatives to enhance diversity in geosciences, officials note, and DIG Texas representatives say they expect to lead to a network of professionals excited about working for a more diverse and better prepared population of students entering geosciences.


Media contact: Karen Riedel, College of Geosciences, at (979) 845-0910; Tura King, Division of Marketing &Communications, at (979) 845-4670; Eric M. Riggs at (979) 845-3651; Kathy Ellins, Jackson School of Geosciences, UT-Austin

January 26, 2012

Whither The Weather? For Answers, Turn To ‘Weather Whys’

tornado on a texas road

A tornado touches down on a Texas roadside.

Ever wonder why the sky turns green before a hail storm, why there are sometimes rings around the moon, if rainmaking efforts really work or who made the first barometer?

These are some of the more than 100 topics posed to Texas A&M’s top weather experts and answered each week in a column called Weather Whys. The free nuggets of weather wisdom have been issued to various media outlets as a weekly service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences for more than 10 years, and they showcase faculty expertise in a particular area.

Texas A&M’s Division of Marketing and Communications, in conjunction with the College of Geosciences, writes and distributes the weekly column, which uses a Q and A format on a particular topic. Various faculty members serve as sources and provide concise answers per the requests of receiving media, who are known for their get-to-the-point-in-a-hurry in today’s fast-paced communications environment.

Photos are also used to illustrate the weather topic of the week

“We have some world-class faculty in our various departments,” says Kate Miller, dean of the College of Geosciences. “They are always eager to answer a question if they can, and they provide us with excellent sources for Weather Whys material. This is a great way for the college to expand its community outreach efforts.

“Texas A&M has always been known for its service to the state, and this column is one way of informing Texans of weather topics they want need to know about and are interested in.”

Adds John Nielsen-Gammon, who serves as Texas State Climatologist in addition to Regents Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and  a frequent source used in Weather Whys: “Part of my job as state climatologist is community outreach, and if that means speaking to the media, I will gladly do it.

“I think it’s important that people get the information they need, whether it’s the general public or a major media outlet. Right now, Texas is going through one of its worst times in its history with a severe drought, so there is a real need for accurate information.”

lightning over a texas field

Lightning strikes a Texas field.

Although Weather Whys is aimed primarily at weekly newspapers in Texas — the state has more than 400 — other media outlets have used it.

It has been source material for radio stations such as WOAI in San Antonio, KRLD in Dallas and other large metro areas. National outlets such as National Public Radio have used the column, in addition to numerous Texas daily newspapers, including the Bryan-College Station Eagle, The Huntsville Item, Mexia Daily News, Panhandle Herald, Waxahachie Daily News, New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, Waco Tribune-Herald and many others.

As for the answers to those questions posed above, all of them will be revealed in upcoming Weather Whys columns — a good reason to stay tuned.


Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644

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