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October 24, 2013

Chemistry Chair Peter Bernath Honored at ACE Mission Celebration

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By Jim Raper

Peter Bernath, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Old Dominion, was among the honored guests when scientists and government and industry partners hosted a special media event on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the University of Toronto to celebrate a decade of success for Canada's Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE)/SCISAT satellite mission.

Bernath is mission scientist for the ACE satellite, which was expected to gather data for two years, but is still operating today. "The mission has been a great success, and the longevity a real bonus," Bernath said. "It has produced an enormous amount of data and helped us understand long-term trends in the composition of the atmosphere."

SCISAT was launched in 2003 by NASA. The two instruments on board measure atmospheric levels of more than 30 different molecules - more than have ever been measured from space before - and improve our understanding of the depletion of the ozone layer, especially the changes occurring over Canada and in the Arctic. The scientific scope of the ACE mission has expanded beyond ozone measurements to include monitoring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The instruments are a Fourier Transform Spectrometer (FTS), which measures in the infrared, and MAESTRO (Measurements of Aerosol Extinction in the Stratosphere and Troposphere Retrieved by Occultation), which measures in the ultraviolet, visible and near infrared.

At the event in Toronto, Bernath addressed news media and answer questions about the ACE mission together with the University of Toronto's Kaley Walker, deputy mission scientist, and York University's Tom McElroy, MAESTRO principal investigator.

The event coincided with the release of a book edited by Bernath entitled "The Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE) at 10: A Solar Occultation Anthology." Bernath, who also wrote portions of the book, said it is a compilation of articles that originated from an international conference he organized and hosted at ODU last year. More than 50 scientists from the United States, Canada, Japan and Belgium attended that conference, which focused on satellite-based research on the chemical composition of the Earth's atmosphere.

The media event in Toronto included these discussions and tours:

Data collected by ACE to validate the efficacy of the Montreal Protocol to Control Ozone-depleting Substances. The stabilization of the ozone layer and changes in the concentrations of ozone-depleting substances have both been measured by ACE.

Information gathered during the Black Saturday pyro-convective events of 2009 associated with fires in Australia that killed nearly 200 people and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes. The fires were of such intensity that the plume rose into the stratosphere where it was measured by the ACE instruments.

In 2011, Bernath received the Faculty of Science Distinguished Alumni Award of the University of Waterloo, Ontario. That award is bestowed upon Waterloo alumni who have demonstrated significant contributions in the areas of professional or academic achievement and contributions to community and public service. Bernath received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Waterloo in 1976.

He has been the lead scientist for ACE since the mission planning began in 1998. The satellite entered orbit in August of 2003. Bernath initiated that project while he was on sabbatical as Visiting Professor in Belgium at Université Libre de Bruxelles. The ACE mission began while he was he was a professor of chemistry (with a cross appointment in physics) at Waterloo.

Bernath earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1981 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he became an associate professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson before taking a faculty position at Waterloo in 1991. He came to ODU in 2011 from the University of York in England.