Dr. Mika Tosca

Art+Design+Science: A new approach


Designer Adrian Galvin and I have been collaborating on an exciting project that pushes the limits of what “science” can be, by using design principles (specifically the human-centered design process) to improve scientific software and, more holistically, improve the very way that science is done. Here is a recent presentation I gave at SAIC, Miami University, and the University of Michigan in 2019 (and continue to give).


Drought & fire in Africa

Using temporally spaced, yet spatially coincident satellite and meteorological data I was able to show that anthropogenic fire aerosols in tropical Africa inhibited convective processes (i.e. rainfall) via solar absorption. This result was the first time aerosol-driven changes in cloud dynamics were resolved using observations.

This work suggests the existence of a positive feedback loop between fire and convection (see figure to the right)

This study was recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, as a follow-up to a study in J. Geophysical Research.

A press release was issued by JPL and NASA. As part of this effort, I participated in the ORACLES field campaign in Swakopmund, Namibia in summer 2016.

This was also featured as a NASA EO "Image of the Day", and in a non-science article written for the online publication The Conversation.

 FIGURE: Tosca et al., "Human-caused fires limit convection in tropical Africa: First temporal observations and attribution", Copyright 2015 American Geophysical Union.

Smog & climate in Southeast US

Mika was a co-PI on an ACCDAM proposal, which was funded to examine trends and relationships between aerosols, clouds, precipitation and temperature in the southeastern United States. In the summer of 2013 a team of scientists from across the world participated in a field campaign, based in Houston, TX. Dr. Mika participated in this campaign as part of a team working with the AirMSPI aircraft radiometer/polarimeter, which flew on the ER-2 for two months (August-September) taking high-resolution radiometric and polarimetric imagery of clouds and aerosols.

As a result, Dr. Tosca published an article in summer 2017 in the journal Remote Sensing looking at trends in temperature and aerosol burden (at various atmospheric levels) in the SEUS and how the two may be related.

The image here shows how aerosol burden has changed throughout the atmospheric column (using CALIPSO lidar retrievals) between 2007 and 2014 (this figure is published in the writeup linked here).

MISR Interactive Explorer

An example of MINX output for a smoke plume in Alaska during July 2004.

I am the current science administrator of the MISR Interactive Explorer (MINX) software program, developed here at JPL by David Nelson. MINX uses stereo imaging techniques to determine the height of aerosol and cloud features above the Earth surface. MINX is available for free download here:


This summer, myself and two summer interns (shoutout to my great interns Matt and Robert!) have been busy digitizing all available biomass burning smoke plumes for 2010. We intend to publish our results after validation with CALIPSO, in ESSD sometime in early 2016.