NASA AQUA Satellite Animation

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A 2002 animation of the NASA AQUA satellite


Date Taken:

Length: 00:42:17

Location Taken: US


Climate is to weather what families are to relatives. They both describe complex interactions among various component parts. This analogy extends to modern strategies for studying the Earth too. Instead of making discrete, independent measurements about isolated places around the globe, experts are fielding closely integrated fleets of satellites and instrumentation designed to work in concert while looking at vast stretches of the planet. NASA’s Earth-observing satellite called Aqua is the latest example of this trend. It’s designed to explore the Earth in terms of interrelated systems, leveraging simultaneous collection of data about related aspects of the planet. - In terms of understanding climate, all right, I think Aqua is going to take us a long ways. The satellite itself is very, very sophisticated. - Very sophisticated, indeed. The school-bus-sized vehicle houses six advanced instruments, each designed to gather data about the Earth in ways that can be used independently or in conjunction with other observations. The satellite will also carry several major advancements in Earth-observing technology. A particularly exciting instrument called AIRS will work with two other devices to collect three-dimensional atmospheric information about temperature and moisture to a degree never seen before. And, as the name of the satellite implies, the Aqua program hopes to make significant contributions to our understanding of the global water cycle. - If we identify changes in the water cycle, it probably means that there are changes elsewhere as well. - Detailed examinations of these kinds of large-scale systems describe the essence of Aqua’s mission. Research into climate change, global plant productivity, the health of the oceans, and much more depend on separate, but cross-calibrated, measurements and analysis because each part of the natural world is fundamentally interconnected to all the others. - The system is so intertwined that changes in one portion probably suggest that there’s changes in others. - NASA and its international partners are counting on this powerful observatory to help researchers explore not only how the Earth lives and breathes, but also how the people of the world can best care for the only planet in the solar system known to harbor life. In human terms, water means life. But to Earth scientists around the world, Aqua means top-notch science. And with the exclamation mark of a Delta rocket blazing a trail, NASA’s latest Earth-observing satellite takes its place on orbit. Home to a suite of powerful instruments for gathering fundamental information about interrelated planetary processes, like climate change and the water cycle, Aqua is part of NASA’s larger Earth Science Enterprise, a program dedicated to studying our home planet from space. - There was a science reason for having these instruments together too. We wanted to make the measurements at the same time, over the same place on Earth, all right? And be able to make the – combine the data from the different instruments to answer certain science questions. So it was important that we had these sensors on the same platform so that they could look at the same place on Earth at the same time. AIRS is probably the most sophisticated instrument we’re flying – probably one of our most important instruments we’re flying. And AIRS should take the science a step forward. From a science standpoint, I mean, in terms of understanding climate, all right, I think Aqua is going to take us a long ways farther than we are in terms of understanding climate. - Aqua has some big advantages by having several different instruments. We end up being able to measure in different wavelengths. We are able to measure microwaves, visible radiation, infrared radiation,a little bit of ultraviolet. And by measuring different wavelengths, we end up being able to see different aspects of the Earth-atmosphere system. If we see changes in snow cover, it probably indicates changes also in either circulation patterns or in temperatures. Similarly, with sea ice – changes in sea ice could very likely be indicative of other changes. The system is so intertwined that changes in one portion probably suggest that there’s changes in others. Sea ice has impacts because it’s a very strong insulator between the ocean and the atmosphere. It also is highly reflective. The ice surface is white. That means most of the solar radiation that comes down and hits it gets reflected off. And as a result, the presence of the sea ice in the polar regions ends up having an impact on the climate – the rest of the climate of the polar regions – in particular, keeping it colder than it would be if the sea ice cover were to disappear.