Climate Fact: Understanding Weather & Climate From Space
During National Environmental Education Week, April 13-19, 2014, we are celebrating the important role STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) play in helping us understand Earth’s weather and climate. Satellites – and the people who design, build and test them and analyze data from their instruments – are critical for studying, modeling and predicting weather and climate patterns. Here are just a few examples of how satellite technology and data are helping us learn about the Earth.
Launched on June 10, 2011, Aquarius is a project between NASA and Argentina’s space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE). Aquarius provides ocean salinity information, helping scientists understand how the oceans are tied to climate and the water cycle. Aquarius provided the first full dataset of global ocean salinity from space and has become a useful tool to improve predictions of events such as El Niño and monitor the ocean’s response to climate change. Understanding ocean salinity helps scientists track currents and learn more about ocean circulation. For example, data collected by Aquarius is being used to understand how ocean salinity contributes to hurricanes growth. The Amazon and Orinoco rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean and form a low-salinity water plume that inhibits ocean mixing and warms sea surface temperatures, fueling hurricanes. In this area, 68 percent of hurricanes reaching category five have crossed the Amazon/Orinoco plume during their journey. Aquarius’ data helps us understand the role of salinity in the layering and mixing of ocean water to forecast hurricane growth. Visit the Aquarius map gallery.
The newest Landsat satellite was launched on February 11, 2013 and is recording changes on Earth’s land surfaces along with its predecessor, Landsat 7. Landsat satellites have collected data since 1972, providing scientists with over 40 years of information. Landsat imagery helps scientists understand the impacts of climate change. For example, Landsat data (map at right, Novaya Zemlya’s Krivosheina Glacier 1988-2011) is helping glaciologist Mauri Pelto, Ph.D, understand the impact of climate change on the cryosphere. Dr. Pelto combines fieldwork measurements with Landsat images to map changes over the last 30 years in the outlines of glaciers, glacial lakes and snow lines. Dr. Pelto noticed the formation of a large number of new alpine lakes and the retreat of glaciers occurring in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, North America, New Zealand and Norway. Visit Landsat’s map gallery.
The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite was launched in 1997 by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to measure tropical precipitation. TRMM’s measurements occur at different times during the day to improve real-time monitoring, forecasting and modeling efforts. TRMM turns two dimensional images into 3D by providing data on vertical rainfall structure (image at right, Tropical Cyclone ITA as of April 10, 2014). TRMM’s data is being used to model global runoff using global rainfall information, as well as to track and predict tropical cyclone behavior. Scientists are expanding TRMM monitoring efforts into higher latitudes with the launch of the GPM satellite in February 2014.
(Click images for larger view.)
(Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Aquarius Science Results. Accessed Online 9 April 2014. http://aquarius.umaine.edu/cgi/sci_results.htm and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Aquarius Overview. Accessed Online 9 April 2014. http://aquarius.umaine.edu/cgi/overview.htm and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Landsat’s Critical Role in Understanding Climate Change. Accessed Online 9 April 2014. http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/LandsatClimateChangeFactSheet.pdf and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Landsat Science: Meet Mauri Pelto, Glaciologist. Accessed Online 9 April 2014. http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/?p=6259 and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. PMM Applications: Tropical Cyclones. Accessed Online 9 April 2014. http://pmm.nasa.gov/applications/tropical-cyclones and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. First Images Available from NASA-JAXA Global Rain and Snowfall Satellite. Accessed Online 9 April 2014. http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/march/first-images-available-from-nasa-jaxa-global-rain-and-snowfall-satellite/#.U0bV26LLI_c and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Tropical Cyclone ITA Becomes More Powerful. Accessed Online 10 April 2014. http://trmm.gsfc.nasa.gov/)