Florida scientists urge Senate to oppose Donald Trump’s NASA pick


Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have already lobbed objections to Jim Bridenstine, President Donald Trump‘s pick to head NASA.

Now, more than 30 Florida scientists signed a letter to the state’s U.S. senators, urging them to outright reject Bridenstine when he comes up for confirmation.

Among the criticisms that scientists around the nation have voiced about Bridenstine is that he has said that he doesn’t believe humans are causing climate change.

“We find it troubling that Congressman Bridenstine has repeated misinformation in his quest to deny climate change, notably in 2013 when he suggested that global temperatures were not rising,” the scientists write to Rubio and Nelson. “Climate and weather are intertwined and while we know that Congressman Bridenstine has publicly expressed desire for better weather prediction capabilities, we cannot predict weather events if we ignore emerging trends.”

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told POLITICO last month.

Rubio concurred, saying that he shared the same concerns of Nelson and thought his “political baggage” would be a drag on his confirmation.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio told POLITICO.

The scientists say that they fear that Bridenstine will de-prioritize NASA’s Earth science research arm. Scientists also fear that climate satellites might lose funding and if so there could be a gap in the data that helps scientists understand the planet.

Bridenstine has been a congressman from Oklahoma since 2012. He was critical of Rubio during the Florida senator’s ill-fated run for the White House in 2015-2016, cutting two ads for Texas Senator Ted Cruz‘ campaign suggesting that Rubio was weak on terrorism. He also took a shot at Rubio for supporting comprehensive immigration reform

The signatories to the letter are many of the same Florida scientists who previously penned a letter to Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, which they say generated a dialogue between Nelson and Ross on climate change and scientific integrity. Ross is on record as stating, “science should be left to scientists.”

Here’s the full letter, and the scientists who wrote it:

re: NASA Administrator Nominee Jim Bridenstine

October 6, 2017

Dear Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio,

We are writing to thank you both for your outspoken concerns regarding Congressman Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to serve as NASA Administrator. We share those concerns.

As scientists, we wholeheartedly agree that leading NASA requires someone with qualifications in science, administration, engineering and technology. NASA satellites produce data that helps keep America safe.  Scientists use these data to measure changes in our oceans, moisture in our soil, rising seas, forecast hurricane tracks, and monitor drinking water supplies.

At this critical time, we can ill afford to allow this vital agency be subject to political whims. There is too much at stake.

Of all of the scientific agencies worldwide, NASA does the best job of observing our planet from space. We must continue to be the leader in Earth observation systems. Cutting funding for satellites will rob us of our ability to safeguard our planet and resources.

One satellite in particular — Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment — known as GRACE, uses gravity to measure mass. Grace is at the end of its life and needs to be funded for continuity. While originally conceived to help guide ballistic missiles, data from Grace has facilitated multiple scientific discoveries, including the following:  

— Grace measured the rate of melting ice in Greenland and the Antarctic.  

— Grace kept track of diminishing groundwater supplies in California’s aquifers during the drought.  

— Grace helped scientists decipher how much sea level rise is caused by melting ice sheets and how much is caused by thermal expansion.

— Most recently, Grace allowed scientists to track flood patterns, soil moisture and power failures all over East Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  

Importantly for Florida — just recently, Geophysical Research Letters reported that scientists are using data from Grace to determine the world’s most vulnerable coastal area by “fingerprinting” sea level rise, which will help researchers predict how climate change will affect storm surges in flood-prone coastal areas.  

The original Grace mission launched in 2002 and is nearing its end-of-life with fuel running out, https://grace.jpl.nasa.gov), and its important work must continue.   

Other important NASA Earth science missions include:  

— CLARREO Pathfinder Mission will set climate benchmarks critical for assessing changes in the Earth system to optimize strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

— The Orbiting Carbon Observatory measures, with high precision and high resolution, carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

— DISCOVR, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, supports the sophisticated EPIC camera monitoring Earth.

— The PACE mission studies harmful algal blooms and volcanic ash eruptions among other things. Their work helps safeguard our shellfish supply.

— The Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite 2 known as ICESat-2 is a laser altimeter to measure elevation and provide mass balance of ice sheets and sea ice, to be launched in Sep 2018, https://icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov

— Operation IceBridge deploys airborne missions over Arctic and Antarctic to measure sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers, and elevation. This work is ongoing since 2009 and is expected to continue into 2019 https://icebridge.gsfc.nasa.gov

— Soil Moisture Active/Passive (SMAP) is a microwave instrument to measure soil moisture and freeze/thaw state of ground (the main applicability to polar regions). It also has the potential to estimate thin sea ice. https://smap.jpl.nasa.gov

— Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (Suomi VIIRS) is a joint mission with NOAA to examine sea ice concentration, ice surface temperature, sea ice thickness, land snow extent, surface reflectivity/albedo with a visible/infrared sensor. It was launched in 2011. https://jointmission.gsfc.nasa.gov/viirs.html

— Joint Polar Satellite System Program (JPSS-1) is a joint mission with NOAA, to follow up on Suomi and examine sea ice concentration, ice surface temperature, sea ice thickness, land snow extent and surface reflectivity/albedo. Launch scheduled for November 2017. http://www.jpss.noaa.gov

— Aqua/Terra: NASA Earth Observing System (EOS) missions launched in 1999 (Terra) and 2002 (Aqua), a suite of several instruments to provide information on sea ice concentration, snow cover (on sea ice and land), reflectivity/albedo, sea surface temperature, clouds and radiative fluxes. https://eospso.nasa.gov

— Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Sounder (DMSP SSMIS) deploy DoD sensors for the sea ice time series developed by NASA and archived at NASA centers.

— Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR2) is a JAXA (Japanese) sensor which NASA uses to create data products on sea ice and snow.

— CryoSat-2: an ESA sensor, radar altimeter measures surface elevation, and NASA is creating data products from it, including on sea ice thickness.

The vital work of NASA’s Earth observation systems must continue without political interference.

We find it troubling that Congressman Bridenstine has repeated misinformation in his quest to deny climate change, notably in 2013 when he suggested that global temperatures were not rising.

Climate and weather are intertwined and while we know that Congressman Bridenstine has publicly expressed desire for better weather prediction capabilities, we cannot predict weather events if we ignore emerging trends.   

NASA must remain an independent scientific agency, and its critical Earth science missions must continue and expand. We agree as you have both said, that NASA should remain free of politics and partisanship.

We urge you to oppose Jim Bridenstine’s nomination. He has no scientific training and little administrative experience and he is not qualified to lead this prestigious agency.  

Make no mistake; our Earth is getting warmer. As humans continue to add heat-trapping gases to our atmosphere, we must keep a close eye on how our changing climate will impact society and our way of life. Florida, in particular is vulnerable to rising seas and more extreme weather events.  Sea level rise is an existential threat to our state.  

Thank you again for speaking your mind about the Jim Bridenstine nomination and we trust you and your colleagues in the U.S. Senate will do the right thing to protect Floridians and all Americans.


Senthold Asseng, Professor

Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department

University of Florida

Leonard Berry, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor of Geosciences

Florida Atlantic University

Henry O. Briceño, Professor

Southeast Environmental Research Center

& Department of Earth and Environment

Florida International University

Mya Breitbart, Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

Kristen Buck, Assistant Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

William S. Castle, Professor Emeritus [Horticulture]

Citrus Research & Education Center

University of Florida

Linda M. Callejas, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor

Department of Child & Family Studies

University of South Florida

Jeff Chanton, Professor

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science,

Florida State University

Eric Chassignet, Professor and Director

Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS)

Florida State University

Dr. Allan J. Clarke

The Adrian E. Gill Professor of Oceanography

Distinguished Research Professor

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

Dr. Amy Clement

Department of Atmospheric Science

University of Miami

Anne J Cox, Professor of Physics

Natural Sciences

Eckerd College

Jeffrey A Cunningham, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

University of South Florida

Kimberly Dobrinski, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Biology

University of Tampa

Robert G. Ellingson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

Department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

Shannon Grogan, Master’s Candidate

Integrative Biology Department

The University of South Florida

Jude W. Grosser, Professor of Citrus Breeding and Genetics

Citrus Research and Education Center

University of Florida

David Hastings, Professor

Marine Science and Chemistry

Eckerd College

Nicole Hernandez Hammer


Chuanmin Hu, Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

Daniel Huber, Associate Professor

Biology Department

The University of Tampa

Elizabeth Kiebel, M.S., doctoral student

Department of Psychology

University of South Florida

Ben Kirtman, Professor

Department of Atmospheric Science

Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

University of Miami

Marguerite Koch, Professor

Department of Biological Sciences

Florida Atlantic University

Cory J. Krediet, Assistant Professor

Marine Science and Biology

Eckerd College

William M. Landing

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

Steve Leitman

Department of Urban and Regional Planning  

Florida State University

Juliana Leonard, Ph.D. Student
Environmental and Ecological Microbiology
Department of Integrative Biology
University of South Florida

Ken Lindeman, Professor

Sustainability Program Chair

Florida Institute of Technology

William Louda, Research Professor

Environmental Biogeochemistry Group

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and The Environmental Sciences Program

Florida Atlantic University

Talea L. Mayo, Assistant Professor

Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering

University of Central Florida

David Mertens

Assistant Professor of Physics

Eckerd College

Karena Nguyen, Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Integrative Biology

University of South Florida

John H. Parker

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Vonnise Cobb

    October 7, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Noting that Rubio and Nelson are two of the most least ‘respected’ Senators in D.C., it is going to be interesting to see how much ‘pull’ they have and how much their ‘No’ vote will matter. For Republicans in D.C., voting with the Democrats in this 115th congress is not a very popular thing to be doing.

Comments are closed.


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