USA — Geosciences Support Marine Corps Operations

Geo­sciences Sup­port Marine Corps Oper­a­tions

By Bob Free­man
Office of the Oceanog­ra­ph­er of the Navy

WASHINGTON — When Marines land on a beach and push inland to secure a strate­gic objec­tive, the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment can either be a tac­ti­cal asset or a dan­ger­ous imped­i­ment.

Marine Corps weath­er spe­cial­ists ensure that the “boots on the ground” get a tac­ti­cal advan­tage through detailed knowl­edge of the oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment.

“We’re respon­si­ble for every­thing from the bot­tom of the ocean to the sun,” explained Marine Corps Mas­ter Sgt. Kari Hubler in a March 24 inter­view on Pen­ta­gon Web Radio’s web­cast “Armed with Sci­ence: Research and Appli­ca­tions for the Mod­ern Mil­i­tary.”

Hubler, a 17-year vet­er­an of the Marine Corps’ mete­o­rol­o­gy and oceanog­ra­phy com­mu­ni­ty, serves as an instruc­tor and cur­ricu­lum devel­op­er at the Naval Mete­o­rol­o­gy and Oceanog­ra­phy Pro­fes­sion­al Devel­op­ment Cen­ter in Gulf­port, Miss., a joint Navy and Marine Corps train­ing cen­ter.

“Envi­ron­men­tal para­me­ters ulti­mate­ly affect any giv­en mis­sion or capa­bil­i­ty,” she explained. “We pro­vide cli­ma­to­log­i­cal infor­ma­tion to help in the mis­sion plan­ning process, and we pro­vide envi­ron­men­tal infor­ma­tion to the on-scene com­bat­ant com­man­ders to help make tac­ti­cal deci­sions dur­ing oper­a­tions.”

Hubler explained that the Marine Corps fights on land, in the air and on the sea, and their envi­ron­men­tal spe­cial­ists must be able to pro­vide sup­port for the full range of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions.

The first is the air.

“We do avi­a­tion fore­cast­ing, … fore­cast­ing upper-air para­me­ters such as winds, tem­per­a­ture, mois­ture — all things that have a direct effect on the safe­ty of avi­a­tion oper­a­tions,” she said.

“We fre­quent­ly con­duct amphibi­ous beach land­ings,” Hubler con­tin­ued, “so some of the envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions we assess, ana­lyze and fore­cast are in the surf zone — cur­rent direc­tion, cur­rent speed, beach slope, tides, … things of that nature.”

Hubler not­ed that pro­vid­ing astro­nom­i­cal infor­ma­tion such as the time of sun­rise and sun­set, moon­rise and moon­set, nau­ti­cal and civ­il twi­light, and the amount of lunar illu­mi­na­tion also is part of the job.

“We’re also very inter­est­ed in how atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions affect the per­for­mance of elec­tro-opti­cal sen­sors like night vision gog­gles,” she added.

Hubler went on to describe oth­er exam­ples of envi­ron­men­tal sup­port. “In moist trop­i­cal cli­mates we’re con­cerned about the rate and dura­tion of pre­cip­i­ta­tion that occurs,” she said, “which can affect troop maneu­ver­abil­i­ty inland, and the abil­i­ty of the soil to absorb pre­cip­i­ta­tion that falls, which def­i­nite­ly affects the traf­fi­ca­bil­i­ty of dif­fer­ent vehi­cle types.”

Desert oper­a­tions pro­vide spe­cif­ic chal­lenges for Marine Corps fore­cast­ers, Hubler not­ed, includ­ing extreme tem­per­a­tures and sand­storms. Moun­tain oper­a­tions are char­ac­ter­ized by extreme­ly dynam­ic weath­er sys­tems.

Anoth­er chal­lenge, Hubler told the program’s lis­ten­ers, is fore­cast­ing riv­er envi­ron­ments since troops fre­quent­ly use rivers to move inland. “We’re par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in assess­ing and fore­cast­ing riv­er stages and flood poten­tial,” she said.

Hubler said all fore­cast­ing is based on gath­er­ing data, ana­lyz­ing the envi­ron­ment to deter­mine what phys­i­cal process­es are affect­ing it, and then fore­cast­ing how those vari­ables will change over time.

“In the case of a riv­er,” she not­ed, “we need data from over the entire riv­er basin to pre­dict con­di­tions for a spe­cif­ic point along the riv­er.”

Riv­er fore­casts start with detailed weath­er fore­casts that include pre­cip­i­ta­tion rate of fall and dura­tion, and then con­sid­ers char­ac­ter­is­tics like the stream flow of trib­u­taries that feed the riv­er, and the types of soil and veg­e­ta­tion cov­er to deter­mine run-off rates that feed the river­ine sys­tem, she explained.

Hubler said that the first chal­lenge was get­ting the required data. “A lot of it … comes from ‘in-situ’ sen­sors, dif­fer­ent recon­nais­sance mis­sions that are being con­duct­ed on the ground, air­craft fly­ing over the region, and even from space-based sen­sors or remote sen­sors,” she said. “We have to come up with a strong, sound sens­ing strat­e­gy based on avail­able assets in the­ater.”

Anoth­er chal­lenge is achiev­ing con­ti­nu­ity and per­sis­tence of obser­va­tions, and what Hubler referred to as the “eyes-on expe­ri­ence.”

“If you don’t have sen­sors on the ground, or that eyes-on view, you may be able to accu­rate­ly pre­dict that the riv­er is going to rise 10 feet, but you have no idea, once that riv­er reach­es flood stage, what it is going to do to the ter­rain,” she said.

For oper­a­tions in com­bat zones, Hubler said, Marine Corps weath­er spe­cial­ists use var­i­ous sen­sors and equip­ment housed in a mete­o­ro­log­i­cal mobile facil­i­ty. She described it as hav­ing “a suite of mete­o­ro­log­i­cal sen­sors, upper air sound­ing capa­bil­i­ties, mete­o­ro­log­i­cal satel­lites, Doppler radar, and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions suite.”

“It also has the soft­ware our fore­cast­ers need in ana­lyz­ing and fore­cast­ing the envi­ron­ment, as well as soft­ware pro­grams that we call ‘tac­ti­cal deci­sion aids’ to help them assess how the envi­ron­ment is going to affect spe­cif­ic mil­i­tary oper­a­tions,” Hubler explained.

“We also con­duct what we call ‘reach-back oper­a­tions,’ ” Hubler con­tin­ued, “so we main­tain con­tact with the Naval Mete­o­rol­o­gy and Oceanog­ra­phy Command’s War­fare Sup­port Cen­ter … to get an accu­mu­lat­ed view of the best envi­ron­men­tal pic­ture that is avail­able and pro­vide that to the com­bat­ant com­man­ders.”

Hubler said that Marine Corps mete­o­ro­log­i­cal and oceano­graph­ic enlist­ed spe­cial­ists receive their train­ing at a joint Air Force-Navy-Marine Corps train­ing facil­i­ty at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss.

“Then they are sent out to the oper­a­tional forces where they learn to apply what they have learned at the school, and they begin to mas­ter those core skills,” Hubler said. “They can come back for fol­low-on sus­tain­ment train­ing and edu­ca­tion at the Pro­fes­sion­al Devel­op­ment Cen­ter, which is a joint Navy and Marine Corps cen­ter that pro­vides train­ing and edu­ca­tion in the realm of the geo­sciences,” she con­tin­ued. “That’s cur­rent­ly where I am serv­ing, as a [cur­ricu­lum] devel­op­er and instruc­tor.”

Hubler said the Pro­fes­sion­al Devel­op­ment Cen­ter pro­vides class­es on loca­tion in a class­room envi­ron­ment, but also devel­ops train­ing through dis­tance learn­ing, includ­ing cor­re­spon­dence man­u­als, Web-based and com­put­er train­ing tuto­ri­als, and instruc­tor-led long-dis­tance learn­ing through the Marine Corps Col­lege of Con­tin­u­ing Edu­ca­tion satel­lite cam­pus­es and learn­ing resource cen­ters.

“There are a vari­ety of solu­tions we can use, depend­ing on the dif­fi­cul­ty of the train­ing require­ment and the length of the train­ing that is required,” she explained.

Hubler said new cours­es in applied envi­ron­men­tal sci­ences are in devel­op­ment. She described one course as hav­ing sev­en chap­ters for sev­en dif­fer­ent sci­en­tif­ic dis­ci­plines.

“This course intro­duces our Marines to required geo­sciences beyond mete­o­rol­o­gy,” she said. “We are paving the way for future Marines.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)