How climate change models could get better, thanks to NASA
NASA is set to launch satellite Glory early Wednesday. It will measure incoming sunlight and atmospheric particles, both key to crafting better climate models.
(Page 2 of 2)
Glory will provide real-world aerosol measurements to help reduce these uncertainties, during a mission slated to last up to five years, depending on how well the spacecraft and instruments hold up.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Glory is designed to make more than 10,000 measurements at 600,000 locations around the world, comparing incoming sunlight with the solar radiation reflected back into space over those locations. In addition, the satellite carries an instrument that can calculate aerosols' sizes and composition from the polarization of the light that they reflect back into space.
Of particular interest to some scientists will be the data on black-carbon soot. Within the past few years, researchers have conducted field measurements suggesting that black-carbon soot's warming effect on the atmosphere is as much as half that of carbon dioxide.
Yet climate models produce only one-third to half of the observed warming from black carbon, explains Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., and a pioneer in the study of black-carbon soot's impact on climate.
"The only thing that beats my excitement for this mission is spending time with my grandchildren," he says. Over the next couple of years, two phenomena he studies – black-carbon soot's impact on cloud formation over the Arabian Sea, and the impact of dust from the western US and abroad on the timing of snow melt in the Rockies – would benefit greatly from having Glory in orbit and operating, says Dr. Ramanathan.
Indeed, the Glory science team notes that the satellite will become the sixth orbiter to join the so-called A-Train – a constellation of Earth-observing satellites launched during the past decade by the US, Canada, and France. The spacecraft focus on clouds, precipitation, ice and snow cover, and other climate-related phenomena.
All pass over the same spot within minutes of one another each afternoon, allowing scientists to track the interaction of different contributors to climate under virtually the same conditions.
"The value of Glory goes up substantially because it's in the A-Train," says NASA's Dr. Maring.