May 2014

Kathryn Sullivan Watches Our Weather and Oceans

Katherine SullivanKatherine Sullivan

Katherine Sullivan
Kathryn Sullivan spoke at a three-day conference titled “Weather Ready Nation: A Vital Conversation.”

On March 6, 2014, Kathryn Sullivan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is one of America’s top scientific agencies. It monitors and studies Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. One of the most important tasks that Sullivan oversees at NOAA is predicting and warning people about dangerous weather. Sullivan and many other scientists have concluded that changes in Earth’s climate are partly responsible for the increase in extreme weather.

Before becoming the head of NOAA, Sullivan served as its chief scientist and deputy administrator. She has many years of experience studying land, sea, and space. On April 23, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Famous former astronaut and retired U.S. Senator John Glenn wrote about her for the special issue. He praised her for being a pioneer in space exploration and Earth sciences.

Sullivan was born in Paterson, New Jersey, but grew up in southern California. As a young girl, she enjoyed exploring the nearby hills and valleys. She was inspired by America’s first astronauts and by the world famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. In her freshman year at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), she read a book that changed the course of her life. It was a book titled Great Waters by British marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy. Hardy’s adventurous tales about being a scientist at sea convinced Sullivan that studying the oceans would be her dream job. In 1973, she completed her bachelor’s degree in Earth sciences at UCSC. Then, in 1978, she earned a Ph.D. in geology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

In 1978, Sullivan was one of the first women accepted into the Astronaut Corps, a division of NASA that selects and trains astronauts. She became the first American woman to walk in space in 1984. She was also part of the space shuttle mission that put the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit around Earth. From 1988 to 2006, she worked as an oceanographer for the U.S. Navy Reserve.

As the new head of NOAA, Sullivan has been striving to make more of the agency’s information about the weather available to the public. She also has been working to get more weather satellites in space. These will help NOAA monitor Earth’s weather more thoroughly than it does now. Sullivan wants the United States and other nations to be better prepared for the increasing number of extreme weather events.

Image credits—article: ©AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki; carousel: ©Alex Wong/Getty Images
Question 1
Which scientific agency does Kathryn Sullivan now lead?

Question 2
For which accomplishment in space exploration is Kathryn Sullivan known?

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