Robert Schiffer, Senior Research Scientist

Robert Schiffer


7178 Columbia Gateway drive

Columbia, MD 21046

Phone: 410-740-6202
Fax: 410-730-3496


• International coordination of water and energy scientific studies related to climate variability and change
• Role of cloud and radiation processes on climate
• Hydro-meteorology


Robert A. Schiffer is currently Senior Scientist at the Goddard Earth Sciences, Technology and Research (GESTAR) Program Office, at the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Columbia, MD. He retired from NASA in 2002 after 39 years of service, including 11 years as a research scientist/engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology, and 28 years at NASA Headquarters, where he served as Chief of the Atmospheric Sciences Branch and then as Deputy Director of the Research Division in the Office of Earth Science. Over a period of 15 years Dr. Schiffer was seconded (part-time) to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, where he served as Director of the Radiation Projects Office for the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). For over 10 years Dr. Schiffer chaired the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) Interagency Committee on Global Observations and Monitoring, and co-chaired the Interagency Committee on the Global Water Cycle. He also served as Executive Director of the U.S. Secretariat for International Global Observing Systems Programs, sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources (CENR), and co-chaired a US/USSR Bilateral Working Group on Climate Research. In 1999 he represented NASA at the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) Scientific Forum on Climate Variability and Global Change (UNISPACE III). After retiring from NASA, he served as Chief Scientist at the Goddard Earth Science and Technology Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and as Director of the International Project Office for the WCRP Global Water and Energy Cycle Experiment (GEWEX). Dr. Schiffer earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees (Atmospheric Sciences) from the University of California at Los Angeles, and B.Aero.E and M.Aero.E degrees (Aeronautical Engineering) from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, the engineering school of New York University. He was licensed as a Professional Engineer in New Jersey (Civil Engineering) and in California (Mechanical Engineering). While at NASA, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (NASA’s highest award), two Medals for Outstanding Leadership, for his contributions to interagency and international climate research and global environmental observations, and two TERRA awards for contributions to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth Program. He is a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society and currently supports NASA and the WMO on global climate change scientific planning and hydro-meteorological research.

An example of his long-term achievements is his leadership role in planning and implementing the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP), the first project of the WCRP. ISCCP was the culmination of research community thinking about how to address a key obstacle? to understanding climate, i.e., determining? cloud-climate feedbacks. Prior to ISCCP, the science community relied on ground based cloud climatologies. While an important contribution to climate research at the time, these data provided limited geographical and temporal sampling, and did not provide sufficient information on cloud radiative properties. ISCCP was initially designed as a research project to produce a 5-year global cloud climatology using the global coverage provided by the then planned international array of operational geostationary and polar orbiting meteorological satellites, but continues as an operational project today, some 30 years later. The first ISCCP global radiance data set was released in 1984. The challenges faced in successfully achieving such a never before attempted consolidation were, and still are, formidable: (i) international space agency commitments, (ii) global coverage, (iii) an international data processing network, (iv) satellite calibration, (v) cloud retrieval algorithms, (vi) data products, and (vii) verification/validation. The ISCCP cloud data sets are now being used to determine cloud effects on the Earth’s radiative balance. The project went beyond production of just cloud statistics to characterizing the associated properties of the atmosphere and surface that affect cloud processes and, together with cloud properties, affect the Earth’s climate. Research achievements employing ISCCP satellite data products highlight (1) the capability to determine the surface and in-atmosphere radiation budgets as well as the cloud effects on radiative fluxes at the surface, in atmosphere and at the top of atmosphere, (2) the beginning of the quantification of the relationships of cloud properties and precipitation, (3) the beginning of the characterization of different weather states from cloud property patterns and their associated radiative and latent heating amounts and atmospheric properties and dynamics, and (4) setting upper limits on the magnitude of the interannual variability of clouds. Even if improvements of the global satellite observing system someday warrant creation of a “better” cloud product, the ISCCP record will continue as the longest uniform global record of basic cloud properties.