Earth Science Week 2013: Mapping Our World

October 13-19, 2013 is Earth Science Week. This year’s theme is Mapping Our World – an exploration of how geoscientists, geographers and other professionals use maps to represent and study weather and climate patterns, land formations, bodies of water, fault lines, volcanic activity, travel routes and more.

Satellites, airborne and on-the-ground missions play a key role in helping us map the world and understand changes taking place across the planet. Learn more about NASA’s Earth observation missions below and in the Mapping Our World interactive.

Click on the poster image to download.

  • AQUA (Launched 2002): A key part of Aqua’s mission is to study water on Earth. Instruments on the Aqua satellite measure evaporation from the ocean, water vapor, clouds, precipitation, and water and ice on land and in the ocean. Scientists use data from Aqua to study the water cycle and other parts of the Earth system.
  • AQUARIUS (Launched 2011): Aquarius measures the saltiness (salinity) of the ocean surface. Differences in ocean salinity play a role in the movement of water and heat around the planet.
  • AURA (Launched 2004): Instruments on the Aura satellite observe gases, like nitrogen dioxide and ozone, to help scientists understand how these gases behave in the lower and upper atmosphere.
  • CALIPSO (Launched 2006): The CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation) mission was developed with France’s space agency and uses lasers to study the atmosphere. CALIPSO images show vertical features of the atmosphere, like clouds, smoke and dust – these images help scientists understand how clouds and aerosols affect climate.
  • CLOUDSAT (Launched 2007): CloudSat uses radar to measure cloud properties – vertical structure, thickness, water content, brightness and other properties. Data from CloudSat is helping scientists understand clouds’ role in weather, climate and the water cycle.
  • GCOM-W1 (Launched 2012): The GCOM-W1 (Global Change Observations Mission-Water 1) was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It observes conditions like vapor, snow depths and seawater temperatures to improve global measurements of precipitation.
  • GRACE (Launched 2002, Follow-on 2017): GRACE – Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – is a mission with two spacecraft flying in formation around the planet, measuring small differences in Earth’s gravitational pull from month to month. This data allows scientists to track changes in large bodies of water above and below Earth’s surface.
  • ICESAT (2003-2009) and ICESAT-2 (2016): The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESAT) studied ice sheets and sea ice at the North and South Pole regions. It also took measurements of cloud, aerosol and vegetation height. Data helped scientists understand whether polar ice was growing or shrinking, and how fast.
  • JASON-2 (Launched 2008): JASON-2 measures the height of the ocean surface to help scientists create maps of the global ocean surface. This helps them understand how the ocean changes over time, and how changes affect weather and climate. Information also helps monitor global sea-level rise.
  • LANDSAT (Series of satellites, first launched in 1972): The Landsat program is a partnership between NASA and USGS to record data about land and coastal regions that helps scientists analyze changes on the Earth’s surface. Landsat 8 launched in February 2013.
  • SEAWIFS (Launched 1997): SeaWiFS is an ocean color sensor that was launched on the OrbView-2 satellite. It collects data about ocean color from space, which helps oceanographers determine the global abundance of microscopic marine plants and study the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.
  • SUOMI NPP (Launched 2011): The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) mission collects land, ocean and atmospheric data that are important for short-term weather forecasting and longer-term climate change studies.
  • TRMM (Launched 1997): The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) is a joint mission between NASA and Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency. TRMM measures rainfall over Earth’s tropical and subtropical regions for weather and climate research.
  • TERRA (Launched 1999): The Terra satellite has instruments from Canada, Japan and the United States that study the land, ocean, atmosphere, heat and light – and how they all work together. Data from Terra has helped scientists measure how many fires burn every day, how much carbon plants take out of the atmosphere, how pollution travels around the planet, and more.

All of these missions – and the data and maps that come from them – help scientists better understand our planet.  And believe it or not, there are even more satellites and instruments monitoring the Earth! Learn about them.

(Sources: NASA: Mapping Our World. http://nasaesw.strategies.org/mapping-our-world-poster/; Suomi NPP: About the Mission. http://npp.gsfc.nasa.gov/)

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