Environment & Science

5 new NASA missions tracking changes on Planet Earth

Over the past 12 months NASA has added five missions to its orbiting Earth-observing fleet – the biggest one-year increase in more than a decade. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory was launched from Japan on Feb. 27, 2014. The most recent mission, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), was launched from California on Jan. 31. Two missions are collecting NASA’s first ongoing Earth observations from the International Space Station.
Over the past 12 months NASA has added five missions to its orbiting Earth-observing fleet – the biggest one-year increase in more than a decade. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory was launched from Japan on Feb. 27, 2014. The most recent mission, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), was launched from California on Jan. 31. Two missions are collecting NASA’s first ongoing Earth observations from the International Space Station.
NASA

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Over the past year, NASA turned much of its focus from space and launched five new missions aimed at studying planet Earth.

Thursday, the space agency shared some preliminary findings from those missions, showing a picture of a planet changing due to man made green house gases.

This suite of new missions includes three satellites and two instruments aboard the International Space Station.

Together, they’re tracking everything from global wind speeds and rainfall to cloud patterns and carbon emissions.

The first to launch was the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, which was sent into space last February by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

It works with data from a network of 12 international satellites to create an impressively comprehensive map of global snow and rainfall in near real time.

In July of 2014, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 or OCO-2.

Information from that instrument is helping scientists see where and how carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, said project manager Ralph Basillio of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

In addition, OCO-2 also tracks where carbon is being absorbed by forests and oceans.

Basillio says these areas are often called carbon sinks and are believed to be playing a large role in limiting the effects of the green house gas.

"What’s going to happen to these sinks over time, will these sinks become saturated?" he asked during a press conference Thursday.

If that happens, Basillio says it might result in even more CO2 entering the atmosphere, which could speed up global climate change.

Currently, the boreal forests in the north and the southern seas are two of the biggest, and least understood carbon sinks on the planet.

In September of 2014, NASA launched RapidScat which is now attached to the International Space Station. It measures wind speeds and patterns and the data it collects is already being used by United States Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as Indian and European scientists.

Also on board the ISS is the  Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), which launched January 10th, 2015. It tracks clouds and dust particles across the globe, two important but little understood factors of potential climate change.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, also known as SMAP is the latest instrument to study Earth, arriving in orbit on January 31st of this year.

It's goal is to map soil moisture across the planet and detect when the ground is frozen or thawed. The instrument is in the process of firing up it's equipment and should be ready to start collecting data within about a month.

Combined, NASA now has  20 Earth-observing space missions gathering data. The information collected will help forecasters better predict the weather and will also inform long term models of global climate change.