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Lopez appointed chair of international program to improve predictability of space weather

Ramon Lopez
Ramon Lopez

Ramon Lopez, UTA Distinguished Teaching Professor of Physics, has been appointed to chair a steering committee for a project that focuses on scientists’ ability to predict solar energy inputs into the Earth and the response of Earth’s atmosphere to the energy input.

Lopez was named by the Scientific Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Physics (SCOSTEP) to serve as chair of the newly created PRESTO (Predictability of the Variable Solar-Terrestrial Coupling) program. The mission of PRESTO is to identify predictability of the variable solar-terrestrial coupling and its performance metrics through modeling, measurements, and data analysis, and to strengthen the communication between scientists and users.

Lopez is an internationally recognized leader in space weather research who has received millions of dollars in funding for projects involving geomagnetic storms, solar wind, and more. Most recently, in June he received a $611,472 grant from the National Science Foundation for a project to develop a new scale to measure weather storms in space that could lead to a better understanding of how those storms impact Earth.

“It’s an honor to be asked by SCOSTEP to co-chair this important program,” Lopez said. “One of the major motivations for PRESTO is to conduct research that has the potential to advance the predictive capability of the Sun-Earth system, with important implications for society.”

SCOSTEP is an interdisciplinary body of the International Council for Science (ICSU) which promotes ICSU’s mission to strengthen international science for the benefit of society. SCOSTEP is tasked with running long-term scientific programs in solar-terrestrial physics.

The PRESTO program is slated to begin in 2020 and runs for four years. It will address the predictability of (1) space weather on timescales from seconds to days and months, including processes at the Sun, in the heliosphere and in Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and atmosphere; (2) sub-seasonal to decadal and centennial variability of the Sun-Earth system, with special focus on climate impacts.

SCOSTEP has identified three pillar areas of research for the program where progress needs to be made in order to significantly improve scientists’ predictive skill of the Sun-Earth system: (1) sun, interplanetary space, and geospace; (2) space weather and the Earth’s atmosphere; and (3) solar activity and its influence on Earth’s climate. Each pillar will have its own committee, which will report to Lopez and two PRESTO co-chairs who will work with Lopez.

Lopez will coordinate PRESTO-related activities including meetings, campaigns, modeling evaluation challenges, and communication with users. He will assist in the creation of symposia, working groups, and special sessions during major scientific meetings.

Alex Weiss, professor and chair of the UTA Department of Physics, said Lopez’s knowledge and experience in space weather make him an excellent choice to chair the PRESTO steering committee.

“Dr. Lopez has been a leader in space physics research for decades,” Weiss said. “He also has extensive experience as chair of various planning and steering committees. I think his expertise and experience will be great assets for the PRESTO program as they take on this important endeavor.”

In addition to his research, Lopez has received numerous accolades for his contributions to science education and for his role as a mentor, particularly to under-represented minority students. He earned his Ph.D. in Space Physics from Rice University in 1986 and went on to serve as a research scientist and administrator at the University of Maryland at College Park; as director of Education and Outreach Programs with the American Physical Society; as professor and physics department chair at UT El Paso; and as physics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology. He came to UTA in 2007.