Thursday, November 27, 2008

A satellite for examining clouds and climate change moves toward launch

NASA: NASA’s Langley Research Center’s Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) instruments have been observing clouds and the radiation budget for nearly a decade now. Key questions remain about how a warming climate will affect clouds, which play an important role in what scientists call the planet's "radiation budget."

…A new sensor, the CERES Flight Model (FM) 5, that will continue the 30-year climate data record of the Earth's radiant energy, has been delivered ahead of schedule and on budget, by Northrop Grumman Space Technologies. The CERES FM 5 instrument will fly as part of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) in 2010. Four CERES sensors currently operate on NASA's Terra and Aqua Earth Observing System spacecraft.

….The CERES instruments detect the amount of outgoing heat and reflected sunlight leaving the planet. An example of CERES data from CERES Aqua show measurements over the United States from June 22, 2002. CERES detects the amount of outgoing heat and reflected sunlight leaving the planet.

Clouds play a significant, but still not completely understood, role in the Earth's radiation budget. Low, thick clouds can reflect the sun's energy back into space before solar radiation reaches the surface, while high clouds trap the radiation emitted by the Earth from escaping into space. The total effect of high and low clouds determines the amount of greenhouse warming.

…"The Earth's radiation balance is in many ways the most critical part of the climate system and is directly influenced by changes in atmospheric composition, such as greenhouse gases and aerosols, cloud properties, and surface and atmospheric temperature," said Loeb. CERES co-Principal Investigator Bruce Wielicki noted "The long climate record from CERES will ultimately answer a longstanding question in science concerning the role of clouds in amplifying or damping the sensitivity of the Earth's climate system."…

The CERES FM 5 instrument was delivered to Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. by Northrop Grumman for integration into the NPP satellite. Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

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