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 Research Scientist with GESTAR 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 (CalTech), 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). In this capacity he planned, negotiated, and led a suite of international research initiatives directed at understanding the role of clouds and radiation in climate, (e.g., the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP), the Earth Radiation Budget Project (ERB), and the Aerosol Climatology Project (ACP)). This required scientific advocacy, planning and coordination with the worldwide array of space and meteorological agencies (e.g., NOAA, ESA, EUMETSAT, JMA, ISRO, etc.) and university scientific communities. 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. During this period he served as principal NASA liaison with the Board on Atmospheric Science and Climate at the National Academy of Science . 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 the 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) in Vienna. In 2000 he led the NASA delegation to Morocco to open discussions on potential cooperative projects with the Morocco Remote Sensing Center in Rabat. 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 Exchange Project (GEWEX). Dr. Schiffer earned M.Sci. and Ph.D. degrees (Atmospheric Sciences) from the University of California at Los Angeles, and B.Aero.Engr. and M.Aero.Engr. degrees (Aeronautical Engineering) from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, the engineering school of New York University. His doctoral dissertation research at UCLA was on the “Depolarization of Multiply Scattered Atmospheric Radiation due to Molecular Anisotropy”. He was licensed as a Professional Engineer in New Jersey (Civil Engineering, 1963) and in California (Mechanical Engineering, 1965). For his service to 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 science program. He was elected a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, and currently supports NASA and the WMO on international global climate change scientific planning and hydro-meteorological research.

An example of his long-term scientific achievements is his leadership in planning, organizing, and managing 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. Under Dr. Schiffer’s direction, 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 operated by the major space and meteorological agencies, and continues today as an operational project, some 30+ years later. The first ISCCP global radiance data set was released in 1984. The challenges faced by Dr. Schiffer in successfully achieving such a never before attempted consolidation were, and still are, formidable: (i) securing international space agency and meteorological services commitments, (ii) seeking global satellite coverage, (iii) supporting development of an international data processing network, (iv) seeking inter-satellite calibration, (v) agreeing on cloud retrieval algorithms, (vi) archiving data products, and (vii) promoting verification/validation. The ISCCP cloud data sets are being used to determine cloud effects on the Earth’s radiative balance and climate. 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 multi-decadal record will continue as the longest uniform global record of basic cloud properties. As of May 2014, ISCCP data were referenced in over 3200 scientific publications worldwide.