User Profile: Dr. Pierre Kirstetter

Who uses NASA Earth science data? Dr. Pierre Kirstetter, for improving our understanding of precipitation and flooding.

Image of Dr. Pierre Kirstetter

Dr. Pierre Kirstetter, Associate Professor, the School of Meteorology and the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, University of Oklahoma; Faculty Member, Advanced Radar Research Center, University of Oklahoma; Affiliate, National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, OK

Research interests: Radar and satellite remote sensing of precipitation, hydrometeorology, hydrology, severe weather, hydrologic hazard prediction with a focus on precipitation and related impacts, and the development of next-generation precipitation products.

Research highlights: On a calm, sunny day it’s easy to underestimate the power of water. But when clouds build and precipitation begins, things begin to change. Just six inches of fast-moving water is enough to knock over an adult, and 12 inches of rushing water can carry away most cars (with only two feet of water needed to carry away SUVs and trucks), according to the National Weather Service (NWS). And when persistent precipitation leads to flooding, the power of water can be devastating. Flooding was second only to heat as the leading cause of weather-related fatalities in the U.S. between 1989 and 2018, based on NWS statistics. Globally, floods accounted for almost half of all weather-related disasters from 1995 to 2015, affecting 2.3 billion people and killing 157,000, according to the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

Tracking precipitation and storms through their lifecycles is an undertaking perfectly suited for Earth observing satellites. These precipitation and storm data are an important part of NASA’s EOSDIS collection, and are an integral component of Dr. Pierre Kirstetter’s work developing the next generation of products for studying hydrology and forecasting high precipitation events and flooding.

IMERG image from GPM data showing one day accumulated rainfall over North America for the period ending July 1, 2019.

GPM Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) Late Run dataset image showing one day rainfall accumulation over North America for the period ending July 1, 2019. IMERG combines data from all passive microwave instruments in the GPM constellation of satellites. Image source: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), GPM.

The primary source for the NASA precipitation data used by Dr. Kirstetter is the ongoing Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. The GPM mission began in 2014 with the launch of the joint NASA/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency GPM Core Observatory. The Core Observatory acquires precipitation data from a constellation of orbiting international satellites to generate estimates of rain and snow as rapidly as every 30 minutes. As a member of NASA’s Precipitation Measurement Missions (PMM) Science Team, Dr. Kirstetter helped develop algorithms for processing GPM precipitation data.

Of course, satellite-collected data need to be verified to ensure that they are accurately reflecting events at ground level. This is accomplished through ground validation campaigns that are vital components of any satellite mission. (Read more: Collecting Data from the Ground Up: NASA’s Ground Validation Field Campaigns). For GPM, these ground validation, or GV, campaigns have included the Olympic Mountain Experiment (OLYMPEX), the Mid-latitude Continental Convective Clouds Experiment (MC3E), the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx),and the Iowa Flood Studies (IFloodS) experiment. Data from these GPM-GV campaigns are available through NASA’s Global Hydrology Resource Center Distributed Active Archive Center (GHRC DAAC), which archives and distributes NASA Earth observing data focused on lightning, tropical cyclones, and storm-induced hazards. Dr. Kirstetter co-developed datasets for the IPHEx and IFloodS campaigns that are available through GHRC DAAC.

Under a NASA Research Opportunities in Earth and Space Science (ROSES) grant and GPM-GV support, Dr. Kirstetter is leading the development of a framework for integrating GPM sensor data with data from the Multi-Radar/Multi-Sensor (MRMS) system, which was developed by NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and the University of Oklahoma. The MRMS system integrates data from radars, satellites, surface observations, upper air observations, lightning reports, rain gauges, and numerical weather prediction models into a suite of decision-support products every two minutes.

The framework developed under Dr. Kirstetter’s leadership makes it easier to evaluate the consistency of ground- and space-based surface precipitation estimates at various scales and improves the retrieval of remotely-collected satellite precipitation data. This work further refines the convergence between satellite data and the MRMS system, and enables forecasters to more quickly diagnose severe weather. This, in turn, helps forecasters produce more accurate forecasts and issue more timely warnings. Along with fostering close collaboration between NASA and NOAA, Dr. Kirstetter points out that this work demonstrates that the NOAA meteorological radar network is highly useful for current and future NASA global precipitation missions.

Cover image from the NOAA FLASH program showing a flooded town and FLASH logo.

NOAA NSSL image.

Dr. Kirstetter also is a co-developer of the Flooded Locations And Simulated Hydrographs (FLASH) Project. Coordinated through the NSSL, the primary goal of FLASH is to improve the accuracy, timing, and specificity of flash flood warnings in the U.S. FLASH was launched in 2012 largely in response to the successful demonstration and real-time availability of high-resolution, accurate MRMS rainfall observations. The FLASH Project uses MRMS rainfall data as input into a hydrologic model to produce flash-flooding forecasts up to six hours in advance of an event with a five-minute update cycle.

The work and research of Dr. Kirstetter, facilitated by data from NASA precipitation missions like GPM, is contributing to the development of more effective ways of forecasting floods and other high-precipitation events. The collaboration between NASA and NOAA on this work is not only helping to save lives and property, but providing a better understanding of one of the planet’s leading weather-related hazards.

Representative data products co-developed or used:

  • Datasets co-developed by Dr. Kirstetter and available at NASA’s GHRC DAAC:
    • Kirstetter, P.E., Petersen, W.A. & Gourley, J.J. (2018). “GPM Ground Validation Multi-Radar/Multi-Sensor (MRMS) Precipitation Reanalysis for Satellite Validation Product.” doi: 10.5067/GPMGV/MRMS/DATA101
    • Kirstetter, P.E., Gourley, J.J., Zhang, J. & Petersen, W.A. (2018). “GPM Ground Validation National Mosaic and Multi-Sensor QPE (NMQ) System IFloodS.” doi: 10.5067/GPMGV/IFLOODS/NMQ/DATA101
    • Kirstetter, P.E., Gourley, J.J., Zhang, J. & Petersen, W.A. (2018). “GPM Ground Validation National Mosaic and Multi-Sensor QPE (NMQ) System IPHEx.” doi: 10.5067/GPMGV/IPHEX/NMQ/DATA101
    • Gourley, J.J., Kirstetter, P.E., Jorgensen, D. & Cifelli, R. (2018). “GPM Ground Validation NOAA X-band Polarimetric Radar (NOXP) IPHEx.” doi: 10.5067/GPMGV/IPHEX/NOXP/DATA101
  • Various GPM precipitation products; available through NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC) and NASA’s Precipitation Measurement Missions (PMM) website (GPM-GV data collections are available through NASA’s GHRC DAAC)
  • Various products from the joint NASA/NOAA GOES16 satellite; available through NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

Read about the work and research:

Gebregiorgis, A., Kirstetter, P.E., Hong, Y., Gourley, J.J., Huffman, G., Petersen, W., Xue, X. & Schwaller, M. (2018). “To what extent is the Day-1 IMERG satellite rainfall estimate improved as compared to TRMM TMPA-RT?” Journal of Geophysical Research, 123(3): 1694-1707 (doi: 10.1002/2017JD027606).

Carr, N., Kirstetter, P.E., Gourley, J.J. & Hong, Y. (2017). “Polarimetric Signatures of Mid-Latitude Warm-Rain Precipitation Events.” Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 56(3): 697–711 (doi: 10.1175/JAMC-D-16-0164.1).

Saharia, M., Kirstetter, P.E., Vergara, H., Gourley, J.J. & Hong, Y. (2017). “Mapping Flash Flood Severity in the United States.” Journal of Hydrometeorology, 18(2): 397-411 (doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-16-0082.1).

Smalley, M., Kirstetter, P.E. & L’Ecuyer, T. (2017). “How frequent is precipitation over the contiguous United States? Perspectives from ground-based and space-borne radars.” Journal of Hydrometeorology, 18(6): 1657-1672 (doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-16-0242.1).

Kirstetter, P.E., Gourley, J.J., Hong, Y., Zhang, J., Moazamigoodarzi, S., Langston, C. & Arthur, A. (2015). “Probabilistic Precipitation Rate Estimates with Ground-based Radar Networks.” Water Resources Research, 51(3): 1422–1442 (doi: 10.1002/2014WR015672).

Špitalar, M., Lutoff, C., Gourley, J.J., Kirstetter, P.E., Brilly, M. & Carr, N. (2014). “Analysis of flash flood parameters and human impacts in the U.S. from 2006 to 2012.” Journal of Hydrology, 519(A): 863–870 (doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2014.07.004).

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Last Updated: Sep 12, 2019 at 3:35 PM EDT