Earth Science

GRACE Mission: 15 Years of Watching Water on Earth

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Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team


Artists_concept_of_the_Gravity_Recovery_and_Climate_Experiment_GRACE_from_December_2002.jpg
Artists concept of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment GRACE from December 2002


Fast Facts

  • In 15 years of operations, the GRACE satellite mission has revolutionized our view of how water moves and is stored on Earth.
  • GRACE measures changes in the local pull of gravity as water shifts around Earth due to changing seasons, weather and climate processes.
  • Among other innovations, GRACE gave us the first space-based view of water beneath Earth’s surface, giving insight into where aquifers may be shrinking or dry soils contributing to drought.
  • The GRACE Follow-On mission, launching in early 2018, will extend GRACE’s innovative measurements

 

“Revolutionary” is a word you hear often when people talk about the GRACE mission. Since the twin satellites of the U.S./German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment  launched on March 17, 2002, their data have transformed scientists’ view of how water moves and is stored around the planet.

“With GRACE, we effectively created a new field of spaceborne remote sensing: tracking the movement of water via its mass,” said Michael Watkins, the original GRACE project scientist and now director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Read the rest of this entry »

NASA, Japan Make ASTER Earth Data Available At No Cost

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In March 2016, ASTER captured the eruption of Nicaragua’s Momotombo volcano with its visible and thermal infrared bands. The ash plume is depicted by the visible bands in blue-gray; the thermal infrared bands show hot lava flows in yellow and the active summit crater in white. Vegetation is red. Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Beginning today, all Earth imagery from a prolific Japanese remote sensing instrument operating aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft since late 1999 is now available to users everywhere at no cost.

The public will have unlimited access to the complete 16-plus-year database for Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument, which images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER’s database currently consists of more than 2.95 million individual scenes. The content ranges from massive scars across the Oklahoma landscape from an EF-5 tornado and the devastating aftermath of flooding in Pakistan, to volcanic eruptions in Iceland and wildfires in California.

Previously, users could access ASTER’s global digital topographic maps of Earth online at no cost, but paid METI a nominal fee to order other ASTER data products. 

In announcing the change in policy, METI and NASA cited ASTER’s longevity and continued strong environmental monitoring capabilities. Launched in 1999, ASTER has far exceeded its five-year design life and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future as part of the suite of five Earth-observing instruments on Terra.

“We anticipate a dramatic increase in the number of users of our data, with new and exciting results to come,” said Michael Abrams, ASTER science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to ASTER’s U.S. science team. ASTER data are processed into products using algorithms developed at JPL and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan. A joint U.S./Japan science team validates and calibrates the instrument and data products.

ASTER is used to create detailed maps of land surface temperature, reflectance and elevation. The instrument acquires images in visible and thermal infrared wavelengths, with spatial resolutions ranging from about 50 to 300 feet (15 to 90 meters). ASTER data cover 99 percent of Earth’s landmass and span from 83 degrees north latitude to 83 degrees south. A single downward-looking ASTER scene covers an area on the ground measuring about 37-by-37 miles (60-by-60-kilometers).

ASTER uses its near-infrared spectral band and downward- and backward-viewing telescopes to create stereo-pair images, merging two slightly offset two-dimensional images to create the three-dimensional effect of depth. Each elevation measurement point in the data is 98 feet (30 meters) apart.

The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provide scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and changes over time. Example applications include monitoring glacial advances and retreats, monitoring potentially active volcanoes, identifying crop stress, determining cloud morphology and physical properties, evaluating wetlands, monitoring thermal pollution, monitoring coral reef degradation, mapping surface temperatures of soils and geology, and measuring surface heat balance.

ASTER data are now available via electronic download from NASA’s Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC) at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and from AIST. To access the data, visit: https://lpdaac.usgs.gov/dataset_discovery/aster or https://gbank.gsj.jp/madas/

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

For more information about ASTER, visit: http://asterweb.jpl.nasa.gov/

For more information on NASA’s Terra mission, visit: http://terra.nasa.gov

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/earth

Excitement Grows as NASA Carbon Sleuth Begins Year Two

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Global average carbon dioxide concentrations as seen by NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission, June 1-15, 2015. OCO-2 measures carbon dioxide from the top of Earth's atmosphere to its surface. Higher carbon dioxide concentrations are in red, with lower concentrations in yellows and greens. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Global average carbon dioxide concentrations as seen by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission, June 1-15, 2015. OCO-2 measures carbon dioxide from the top of Earth’s atmosphere to its surface. Higher carbon dioxide concentrations are in red, with lower concentrations in yellows and greens. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists busy poring over more than a year of data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission are seeing patterns emerge as they seek answers to the science questions that drive the mission.

Launched in July 2014, OCO-2, an experimental carbon-dioxide measurement mission, is designed to give the international science community a new view of the global carbon cycle in unprecedented detail. During its two-year primary mission, the satellite observatory is tracking the large-scale movement of carbon between Earth’s atmosphere, its plants and soil, and the ocean, from season to season and from year to year. OCO-2 began routine science operations in September 2014.

“We can already clearly see patterns of seasonal change and variations in carbon dioxide around the globe,” said Annmarie Eldering, OCO-2 deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Far more subtle features are expected to emerge over time.”

A new animation depicting the first full year of OCO-2 science operations is available at:

Armed with a full annual cycle of data, OCO-2 scientists are now beginning to study the net sources of carbon dioxide as well as their “sinks” — places in the Earth system that store carbon, such as the ocean and plants on land. This information will help scientists better understand the natural processes currently absorbing more than half the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by human activities. This is a key to understanding how Earth’s climate may change in the future as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

The first year of data from the mission reveals a portrait of a dynamic, living planet. Between mid-May and mid-July 2015, OCO-2 saw a dramatic reduction in the abundance of atmospheric carbon dioxide across the northern hemisphere, as plants on land sprang to life and began rapidly absorbing carbon dioxide from the air to form new leaves, stems and roots.

During this intense, two-month period, known as the “spring drawdown,” OCO-2 measurements show the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide over much of the northern hemisphere decreased by two to three percent. That’s 8 to 12 parts per million out of the global average background concentration of 400 parts per million.

“That’s a big but expected change,” said Eldering.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had the opportunity to observe the spring drawdown across the entire northern hemisphere with this kind of spatial resolution, seeing changes from week to week.”

Also as expected, OCO-2 data show increased concentrations of carbon dioxide associated with human activities. Higher carbon dioxide levels of several parts per million are seen in regions where fossil fuels are being consumed by large power plants or megacities. Enhanced levels are also seen in the Amazon, Central Africa and Indonesia, where forests are being cleared and burned to create fields for agricultural use.

Researchers Abhishek Chatterjee of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; and Michelle Gierach and Dave Schimel of JPL are investigating a strong correlation observed between atmospheric carbon dioxide over the Pacific Ocean and the current El Nino.

Fluctuations in carbon dioxide appear to be strongly linked with warmer sea surface temperatures. OCO-2’s unprecedented density of measurements is giving researchers a unique data set to understand and separate the roles that sea surface temperatures, winds, regional emissions and other variables may be playing in the carbon dioxide concentrations.

“We believe 2016 will see breakthrough OCO-2 research results, as scientists work to unravel the mysteries of finding carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks,” said Eldering.

Through most of OCO-2’s first year in space, the mission team was busy calibrating its science instrument, learning how to process its massive amount of data, and delivering data products to NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES-DISC) in Greenbelt, Maryland, for distribution to the world’s science community.

Scientists are comparing OCO-2 data to ground-based measurements to validate the satellite data and tie it to internationally accepted standards for accuracy and precision.

Routine delivery of OCO-2 data — calibrated spectra of reflected sunlight that reveal the fingerprints of carbon dioxide — began in late 2014, while estimates of carbon dioxide derived from cloud-free OCO-2 observations have been delivered since March 2015. Recently, the OCO-2 team reprocessed the OCO-2 data set to incorporate improvements in instrument calibration and correct other known issues with the original data release.

Every day, OCO-2 orbits Earth 14.5 times and collects and returns about a million measurements. After eliminating data contaminated by clouds, aerosols and steep terrain, between 10 to 13 percent of the measurements are of sufficient quality to derive accurate estimates of the average carbon dioxide concentration between Earth’s surface and space. That’s at least 100 times more carbon dioxide measurements than from all other sources of precise carbon dioxide data combined.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

For more information on OCO-2, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/oco-2

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/earth

NASA Announces Education Research Program Award Recipients 

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June 04, 2015 
NASA RELEASE 15-110

NASA is awarding a total of approximately $11.25 million to universities in 15 states to conduct basic research and technology development in areas critical to the agency’s mission.

NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program is awarding up to $750,000 to colleges and universities for research and development in areas, such as remote sensing, nanotechnology, astrophysics and aeronautics, all of which are applicable to NASA’s work in Earth science, aeronautics, and human and robotic deep space exploration.

The award covers a three-year period. Results from the research will be provided to NASA for possible inclusion in its programs.

The awardees and the title of their winning proposals are:

  • University of Alaska, Fairbanks: A Vertical Comet Assay for Measuring DNA Damage to Radiation
  • University of Arkansas, Fayetteville: Arkansas NASA EPSCoR – SiGeSn Based Photovoltaic Devices for Space Applications
  • University of Hawaii, Hilo: Developing a Capability at the University of Hawaii for Multiple UAV Observations of Active Volcanism
  • Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas: Active Wing Shaping Control for Morphing Aircraft
  • Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge: Investigating Terrestrial Gamma Flash Production from Energetic Particle Acceleration in Lightning using TETRA-II
  • Missouri University of Science & Technology, Rolla: Learning Algorithms for Preserving Safe Flight Envelope under Adverse Aircraft Conditions
  • University of Mississippi, Oxford: GEANT4 Simulations for Astronaut Risk Calculations
  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks: Multi-Purpose Research Station in North Dakota in Support of NASA´s Future Human Missions to Mars
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln: Large Volume Crystal Growth of Superoxide Dismutase Complexes in Microgravity for Neutron Diffraction Studies
  • University of New Hampshire, Durham: Responsive Autonomous Rovers to Enable Polar Science
  • New Mexico State University, Las Cruces: Virtual Telescope for X-ray Observations
  • University of Nevada, Reno: Advanced Transport Technologies for NASA Thermal Management/Control Systems
  • University of Oklahoma, Norman: Extracting the Photonic Spectrum for the Long Range Exploration of Space: A Hybrid Photovoltaic Photon Upconversion and Biological System for Energy Production and Life Support
  • College of Charleston, in partnership with the University of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charleston, South Carolina: Using NASA’s Ocean Color Sensors to Identify Effects of Watershed Development and Climate Change on Coastal Marine Ecosystems of the US Virgin Islands
  • South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Rapid City: Development of Direct-Write Materials, and Electronic and Electromagnetic Devices for NASA Printable Spacecraft

Go to EPSCor Abstracts (PDF) To read more details on the projects listed above. 

In the next week or two I will have either a story on each, or I will provide 1-2 paragraphs for each. Looking at the EPSCor Abstracts, a favorite of mine is Wichita State University’s, Active Wing Shaping Control for Morphing Aircraft among many others.

EPSCoR is managed by NASA’s Office of Education in Washington, and in each participating jurisdiction by a program director who oversees the process of submitting grant proposals and the work performed with the grant funding.

In addition to funding research that can further NASA’s current and future mission, these grants provide the added benefit of improving science and technology research and development capabilities at recipient universities.

To learn more about EPSCoR and to view an abstract from each of the 2015 EPSCoR education research selectees, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/epscor

For more information about NASA’s education programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/education

NASA Hosts Media Call on Draft Solicitation for New Class of Launch Services 

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May 07, 2015
NASA Media Advisory M15-073

 

M-Cubed/COVE-2 is the reflightof a 1U CubeSat developed by U. Michigan to image the Earth at mid-resolution, approximately 200m per pixel, carrying the JPL developed COVE technology validation experiment.

Credits: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Launch Services Program has issued a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS), which would be commercial launch services for small satellites and experiments on science missions using a smaller than currently available class of rockets.

NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Monday, May 11 to discuss this strategic initiative, the RFP and the expectation for this class of launch services.

At present, launch opportunities for small satellites — often called CubeSats or nanosatellites — and small science missions are mostly limited to ride-share type arrangements, flying only when space is available on NASA and other launches. The Launch Services Program seeks to develop alternatives to this approach and help foster other launch services dedicated to transporting smaller payloads into orbit. The services acquired through such a contract will constitute the smallest class of launch services used by NASA.

Participants in the media briefing are:

  • Mark Wiese, chief, Flight Projects Branch, Launch Services Program Business Office, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center 
  • Garrett Skrobot, mission manager, Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa), Launch Services Program, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

This solicitation, and resulting contract or contracts, is intended to demonstrate a dedicated launch capability for smaller payloads that NASA anticipates it will require on a recurring basis for future science and CubeSat missions. CubeSats already are used in markets, such as imagery collection and analysis. In the future, CubeSat capabilities will include abilities, such as ship and aircraft tracking, improved weather prediction, and broader Internet coverage.

NASA intends to award one or more firm fixed-price VCLS contracts to accommodate 132 pounds (60 kilograms) of CubeSats a single launch or two launches carrying 66 pounds (30 kilograms) each. The launch provider will determine the launch location and date, but the launch must occur by April 15, 2018.

The public may watch or listen to the conference on either the phone or on NASA’s newsaudio website. Members of the media have received other information in order to participate, which has been excluded from this release.

However, the public is allowed to listen to the conference. To listen to teleconference, call 321-867-1220321-867-1240 or 321-867-1260 (usually reserved for members of the media), or the public and media members without proper credentials may listen online at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

For businessness interested in bidding process, the draft RFP is open for written questions and comments from industry entities until Wednesday, May 20. The final RFP, if issued, is anticipated to be released in June. The draft RFP may be accessed at: http://go.nasa.gov/1KMTeDR

For more information about NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/home/CubeSats_initiative.html

NASA’s Launch Services Program is focused on assuring the availability of long-term launch services for NASA while also promoting the continued evolution of the U.S. commercial space launch market. The capability anticipated to meet the requirement for a smaller launch vehicle represents an emerging category of launch services. 

For more information about NASA’s Launch Services Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/launchingrockets/index.html



NASA SMAP Observatory Ready for Launch

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PRESS RELEASE (JPL) – The launch of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 29. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 2 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket is targeted for 6:20:42 a.m. PST (9:20:42 a.m. EST) at the opening of a three-minute launch window. If needed, a backup launch opportunity is available on the Western Range on Jan. 30 with the same launch window.

SMAP is the first U.S. Earth-observing satellite designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state. High-resolution space-based measurements of soil moisture and whether the soil is frozen or thawed will give scientists a new capability to better predict natural hazards of extreme weather, climate change, floods and droughts, and will help reduce uncertainties in our understanding of Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles.

The mission will provide the most accurate and highest-resolution maps of soil moisture ever obtained, mapping the globe every two to three days from space for a least three years. The spacecraft’s final circular polar orbit will be 426 miles (685 kilometers) at an inclination of 98.1 degrees. The spacecraft will orbit Earth once every 98.5 minutes and will repeat the same ground track every eight days.