Natalia Mikhailovna Astafieva

60 seconds with authors

Natalia Mikhailovna Astafieva

Space Research Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russian Federation

What led you into science and your chosen area of research?

Most likely, it was my curiosity and the ability to be surprised. I was always in awe of the atmosphere enveloping the Earth. Mere air, you might think, but such rapidity of change, such awesome power, such destructive potential on the ground and in the sea all from this lightest substance. The result was the chair of aerodynamics and gas dynamics of the Moscow M.V. Lomonosov Universitys department of mechanics and mathematics and research under the wing of academician G.I. Petrov (he headed this chair at the University and was the first director of the Institute of Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences where I still work today). My scientific interests are in one way or another inseparable from the atmosphere: dynamics of rotating liquid, spherical Couette flow, waves, hydrodynamic instability and transition to turbulence, effects of motion in the ocean-atmosphere system on the climate system of the planet.

Can you describe the results in your paper and their importance for your field?

This paper was a pioneer review on wavelets published in Russia. It presented the foundations of the mathematical tools of the wavelet transformation and gave examples of its application. In fact it was shown that to analyze sets of numbers of any physical nature, one has to operate not only with the familiar harmonic functions (the Fourier analysis) and even not to use them so much. We do not happen to live in a regular harmonic world (in this context I only mean the physical organization of our world). The characteristics of practically all physical processes are irregular, nonharmonic, nonlinear sets with various localized singularities since they are all formed as a result of numerous interactions with various intensities, on a broad range of temporal and spatial scales. Other, localized analyzers are necessary to adequately reveal the properties of such complex processes, and we have them in wavelets (small waves). A review papers was called for as at that time when even the term localized spectral analysis seemed to be seditious. In what way could spectral analysis be localized!?! What nonsense is a local spectrum! Nowadays people are surprised not by these terms but by the fact that they seemed strange. Along with many scientists around the world, we successfully apply mathematical techniques of the wavelet transformation in our case, to analyze the characteristics of atmospheric and climatic processes.

What research projects are you working on at the moment?

Even though the several projects we work on now seem, at first glance, to belong to different fields of science, they are nevertheless rather closely related. We are interested in motions and processes in the ocean-atmosphere system that are responsible for large-scale transfers of energy in the atmosphere (of heat, mass, water vapor, angular momentum) which thereby affect the variability of the climate system. We study motions in rotating spherical layers (which offer a basis for simulation of global processes in planetary atmospheres), the instability of zonal fluxes (and consequently, planetary waves in the atmosphere, including Rossby waves), the structure of the radiothermal field of the planet as revealed by the data of satellite microwave monitoring (and therefore the distribution of the amounts of moisture and water stored in the atmosphere and their polar transfer); we also analyze helio- and geophysical parameters (by studying the variability of the Earths climate system).

What do you think will be the next big breakthrough in your field?

I do not want to sound peremptory, but I think nevertheless that a breakthrough in the study of the ocean-atmosphere system and the climate system of the planet will not come from a progress in theoretical studies. I read a considerable number of papers on the subject and each new one strengthens the impression that the ideas they exploit are being worked on for the last 15 to 20 years. New ideas are more likely to come from rethinking the mass of observations on the state of natural processes that make up the climate system. An adequate analysis of such data requires application of the most advanced mathematical techniques which is not always the case. Then there is an unpleasant factor: we need time, and we cannot control it. New paleographic data are constantly obtained but they only provide information on very long-term variations. The instrument data-collection epoch is very short on the climate scale (130-170 years) and the data reliability is nonuniform. As remote-collection of data expanded the satellite monitoring of the planet in a number of frequency ranges it became possible to observe the state of the ocean-atmosphere system not locally but as fields. This was an enormous breakthrough. Alas, the era of satellite monitoring is obviously very brief a mere dozen years or so. Nevertheless, a huge amount of observations was accumulated. What we need is an adequate complex analysis, and new ideas will grow out of it with time.

What book are you reading right now?

My generation was very lucky as far as our reading is concerned. We lived through three exciting phases: one of classics, one of photocopying, one of thick literary magazines. These were replaced with two more: one of book cornucopia and the current one of street stands and vendors. The phase of plentiful books did quench our thirst for good reading but the next one led at least in my case to an acute feeling of gratitude to the first three. And not only to literature as such but to those people who worked in editorial offices of thick journals (they made my choices for me and did a pretty good job of it). What I read nowadays about dynamic chaos in hydroacoustics is hardly very exciting. A more interesting observation is that although an avid reader, I incline more now to reading memoirs than fiction. At the moment here is what I see waiting for me on my desk:
Mikhail Lvovich Levin. My life, memories, creations / IPF RAN. Nizhnii Novgorod, 1995. 464 pp.
Khalatnikov I.M. Dau, Centaur and others. Top non-secret. Moscow: Fizmatlit, 2008. 192 pp.
I also needed certain references from
Blokh A.M. Soviet Union in the light of Nobel Prizes. Facts. Documents. Musing. Comment. Moscow: Fizmatlit, 2005. 880 pp.

If you could have dinner with any 3 people, past or present, who would they be and why?

This dinner is a pure figment of imagination so nothing can stop me from assuming that history has its conditional mode. Instead of a dinner, I would love to sit down in a comfortable armchair of a good library in the company of the Russian czars Peter, Alexander and Nicholas (I, I and II, respectively) to outline for them the consequences of some of their decisions made at the pivotal moments in history. Simply to modify the initial conditions of the problem and slip into a different branch of the solution.

What has been the most exciting moment in your career so far?

Cant recall any especially exciting events in my career. Cant even say whether I feel happy or sad that there werent. Luck was a very important element though. I was lucky with my teachers in my time lectures at the Mechanics and Mathematics department were delivered by outstanding scholars. And I was lucky with my friends my colleagues, my close friends, and those not so close.

What would you like to say in connection with the 90th anniversary of Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk journal?

An excellent journal, a beautifully done job. An intelligent one. A journal with good traditions. A journal of this sort is only possible if there are people who practically devote their entire life to it. I wish this team a minimum number of obstacles in what they are doing. However, one wish for my beloved self: all my conscious life I knew for sure that I could get an introduction into any serious problem by digging into that long shelf with issues of the UFN and I wish this to be always so!

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