Friday, January 21, 2011

New earth-observing satellite to address climate uncertainties

Environment News Service: NASA is about to launch an Earth-observing satellite with new technology onboard designed to broaden our understanding of how the Sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate. Aerosols represent one of the greatest areas of uncertainty in understanding Earth's climate system.

Called Glory, the mission is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California early in the morning of February 23. "Glory is going to help scientists tackle one of the major uncertainties in climate change predictions identified by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the influence of aerosols on the energy balance of our planet," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Glory also will extend a legacy of long-term solar measurements needed to address other key uncertainties about climate change. "This mission also marks the first satellite launch under President Obama's climate initiative that will advance the United States' contribution to cutting-edge and policy-relevant climate change science," Freilich said.

Glory will join a fleet of other Earth-observing satellites that fly in tight formation. NASA scientists call them the "Afternoon Constellation" or "A-train" of satellites.

…The mission carries two primary instruments, the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor and the Total Irradiance Monitor. APS will improve measurement of aerosols, the airborne particles that can influence climate by reflecting and absorbing solar radiation and modifying clouds and precipitation. APS will collect data at nine different wavelengths, from the visible to short-wave infrared, giving scientists a much-improved understanding of aerosols.

NASA's first Earth-orbiting polarimeter, APS will help scientists distinguish between natural and human-produced aerosols. The information will be used to refine global climate models and help scientists determine how our planet is responding to human activities….

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