NASA Missions Shed More Light On Climate Change

For many years, NASA has been deploying missions in order to gain further understanding of Earth as a whole and how it is changing. Through these space-based observations, the agency is able to monitor Earth’s environment and ecosystem.

Satellites orbit Earth numerous times per day, providing fast information on a wide range of conditions. These missions start off with a study phase that involves the identification of the key science objectives and analysis of the designs for the spacecraft and instruments that will be used. It is then followed by a development phase in which every aspect of the mission are developed and tested to make certain that it is in accordance with the goals of the mission.

In a span of a year, NASA has added five missions to observe Earth from space. To date, the agency has a total of 20 ‘Earth-observing space missions’ in operation. The five newly added Earth-observers are ISS-Rapid Scat, The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory, The Cloud Aerosol Transport System, and The Soil Moisture Active-Passive Laboratory.

ISS-Rapid Scat is an instrument that monitors ocean winds to provide vital statistics used in weather predictions. On the other hand, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 watches the Earth “breathe from space,” and is dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide. Satellite observations from November to December 2014 show that the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are largely influenced by changing seasons.

In addition, The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, which was launched by NASA in partnership with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), provides scientists with new understandings regarding atmospheric carbon dioxide, global rain and snowfall, clouds, ocean winds, and tiny airborne particles called aerosols. Just recently, GPM produced its first global map of rainfall and snowfall.

The map is updated every half an hour, thus allowing scientists to understand the pattern of rain and snowstorms of almost the entire planet. In addition, the Cloud Aerosol Transport System is used to deliver accurate cloud and aerosol measurements, which are two of the biggest unknowns that will influence potential climate change. It has also released its first data image, featuring a slice of the atmosphere over Africa showing clouds and dust particles.

Lastly, the Soil Moisture Active-Passive Laboratory or SMAP, which was the latest satellite launched earlier this year, has begun to map global moisture of soil and detect the physical state of the soil — whether it is frozen or thawed. SMAP’s 2-foot wide reflector antenna will map the entire globe every two to three days.

Peg Luce, Earth Science Division deputy director, commented that the highly accurate data that acquired with these new missions would aid scientists probe deeper into some of the biggest questions regarding how our planet is changing. “These new capabilities will also be put to work to help improve lives here on Earth and support informed decision-making by citizens and communities,” added Luce.