Daytona Beach Campus


Embry-Riddle Professor Jonathan Snively Wins NSF Early Career Award for Research on Gravity Waves

Daytona Beach, FL, November 16, 2012

Professor Jonathan Snively Wins NSF Award

Jonathan Snively

Embry-Riddle scientist Dr. Jonathan Snively has received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty members, the Faculty Early Career Development grant, supporting his continued research on gravity waves and their effect on the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Snively, an assistant professor of Engineering Physics in the Physical Sciences Department at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus, will receive $478,720 over five years from the NSF award program that encourages the activities of teacher-scholars who are judged likely to become leaders in academic research and education.

“Jonathan is one of the best and brightest researchers at Embry-Riddle,” said Dr. Mike Hickey, associate vice president of Research and Graduate Studies at Embry-Riddle. “The fact that he’s the fourth professor at the Daytona Beach Campus to receive the highly competitive NSF Early Career Award in the last seven years demonstrates that the NSF has great confidence in the quality of Embry-Riddle faculty and students and the research they conduct.”

Besides funding the work of Snively and student researchers at Embry-Riddle, his NSF Early Career Award will also support the development of a new Computational Atmospheric Dynamics course for Embry-Riddle’s Ph.D. program in Engineering Physics as well as new outreach programs intended to increase the understanding and awareness of the upper atmosphere.

Snively holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S. in Engineering Physics from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. Before coming to Embry-Riddle, he worked for two years as an NSF CEDAR (coupling, energetics and dynamics of atmospheric regions) post-doctoral researcher at Utah State University’s Center for Atmospheric and Space Sciences.

Details on Jonathan Snively’s Research

Snively explains that gravity waves in the atmosphere are analogous to waves in the ocean, and are totally unrelated to the “gravitational waves” predicted by general relativity. “Gravity waves are generated when air is lifted by convective weather systems or by wind flow over mountains,” he said. “The waves propagate up and away from their sources, to altitudes of 50 to 100 miles in the mesosphere and thermosphere. There, they dissipate by viscous damping or by breaking, similar to ocean waves that break as they approach shore.”

The cumulative effects of gravity waves are important to account for when modeling the global dynamics of the upper atmosphere, according to Snively. Individual waves also can have an impact regionally on the upper atmosphere, he said: “Strong waves disturb the mesosphere sufficiently to be detectable during space vehicle re-entries, and in the thermosphere they can interact with the overlying ionosphere, which is a crucial region for long-range radio communication.”

In addition to studying gravity waves by simulating their behavior with computer models, waves can be observed by monitoring their effects on nighttime airglow. Airglow is a weak atmospheric optical emission, similar to the aurora but occurring continuously. One form arises from excited hydroxyl molecules, which emit infrared light from a thin layer 52 miles above the Earth’s surface.

“If humans could see the infrared light of hydroxyl airglow, we could watch waves slowly traveling across the sky on any clear night as they disturb the layer,” Snively said. “As part of my project, I’m working with Embry-Riddle Engineering Physics students to set up an infrared camera on campus to monitor gravity waves visible in the airglow over Daytona Beach.”

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