Steven Lee, PhD

Dr. Steven Lee's research focuses on the interaction between the surface and atmosphere of Mars -- primarily by mapping the patterns of wind-blown dust deposits across the planet. These observations help refine our understanding of Martian weather and long-term climate variation, and how landforms have been shaped over time.

  • POSITIONDepartment Chair & Curator of Planetary Science
  • EXPERTISE Planetary Geology
  • PhD

    Cornell University

  • PHONE NUMBER303.370.8237
  • EMAIL[email protected]
  • RESUME Click to Download


  • 1

    Jakosky, B.M., Mellon, M.T., Kieffer, H.H., Christensen, P.R., Varnes, E.S., Lee, S.W. 2000.  The thermal inertia of Mars from the Mars Global Surveyor Thermal Emission Spectrometer, J. Geophys. Res., 105, 9643-9652.

  • 2

    Malin, M. C.; Bell, J. F., III; Calvin, W.; Clancy, R. T.; Haberle, R. M.; James, P. B.; Lee, S. W.; Thomas, P. C.; Caplinger, M. A. 2001.  The Mars Color Imager (MARCI) on the Mars Climate Orbiter, J. Geophys. Res., 106, 17651-17672.

  • 3

    Malin, M. C., J.F. Bell III, B.A. Cantor, M.A. Caplinger, W.M. Calvin, R.T. Clancy, K.S. Edgett ,L. Edwards, R.M. Haberle, P.B. James, S.W. Lee, M.A. Ravine, P.C. Thomas, and M.J. Wolff. 2007. The Context Camera Investigation onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. J. Geophys. Res., 112, E05S04.

  • 4

    M.C. Malin, J.F. Bell III, W.M. Calvin, B.A. Cantor, R.T. Clancy, R.M. Haberle, P.B. James, S.W. Lee, P.C. Thomas, and M.J. Wolff. 2008. Climate, Weather, and North Polar Observations from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mars Color Imager. Icarus, 194, 501-512.

  • 5

    J.F. Bell III, M.J. Wolff, M.C. Malin, W. Calvin, B. Cantor, M. Caplinger, R.T. Clancy, L. Edwards, J. Fahle, T. Ghaemi,  R.M. Haberle, A. Hale, P.B. James, S. Lee, T. McConnochie,  E. Noe Dobrea, M. Ravine, K. Supulver, P.C. Thomas. 2009. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mars Color Imager (MARCI):  Instrument Description, Calibration, and Performance. J. Geophys. Res., 114, E08S92.



After a seven-month trip to Mars and six months of tweaking to reach its science orbit, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) began its mission to study the history of water on the Red Planet.

MRO accomplishes this through a series of scientific instruments that analyze minerals, get up-close photos of the surface of the planet, look for groundwater, measure how much dust and water are in the atmosphere, and observe daily global weather.

One of the scientific instruments on board the spacecraft is the Mars Color Imager, also known as MARCI. MARCI is a special weather camera that monitors clouds and dust storms. It takes  a picture of the planet every 2.6 seconds. What happens next is the job of Dr. Steven Lee of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

"My project is developing monthly snapshots of the planet. I use about 400 orbits, or 500,000 camera images-also known as framelets-stitched together to make a seamless view of Mars," Dr. Lee said.

The goal is to make a library of these monthly views of Mars from the beginning of the mission until the spacecraft breaks or wears out. Scientists use this library to compare the images and look for patterns or anomalies in Martian climate.

"Every now and then there are global dust storms that form on Mars. The entire atmosphere gets choked in a cloud. We think 65 million years ago a similar process happened on Earth," Dr. Lee said.

When Earth was hit by an asteroid during the K-T impact event, large amounts of dust, ash, and smoke ended up in Earth's atmosphere, and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

"So by understanding processes today that are happening on other planets, like Mars, we may well get a better understanding of processes that happened in the past on Earth," Dr. Lee said.


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