NASA's Aqua Satellite Marks One Year of Viewing Earth

Aqua’s first year has revealed impressive views of our planet’s volatile surface, capturing dramatic events such as fires in Australia and the United States, snowstorms in the Arctic, typhoons in the East China Sea, a volcanic eruption on the island of Sicily, and dust storms in the Middle East, all with data from its six unique instruments.

“We’ve collected high-quality data from all of our instruments, and these data should eventually lead to a better understanding of Earth’s water cycle and the role it plays in our changing climate,” stated Claire Parkinson, Aqua Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Aqua was launched on May 4, 2002, and soon after began providing valuable information from its massive data flow, approximately 89 gigabytes a day, allowing scientists to analyze and generate dozens of data products. The Aqua Science Team will convene at Goddard May 28-29 to present their insights, first-year results, and plans for their future research using Aqua data.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) and the Humidity Sounder for Brazil (HSB) combine to form a trio of instruments that capture an ongoing, detailed picture of the Earth’s atmosphere that will eventually lead to improved short-term weather predictions, improved tracking of severe weather events like hurricanes, and advancements in climate studies.

Arctic snowstorms were successfully tracked using data from the AMSU and the HSB, the latter having been provided by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research. In the past, tracking snowstorms in the Arctic from satellites was particularly difficult because of the underlying ice and snow surfaces. Successful tracking with Aqua data was accomplished by using channels of the AMSU and HSB that do not see through to the surface.

The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting has shown a positive impact to the weather forecasts and plans to incorporate AIRS and the AMSU data into their operational forecast models by the end of summer 2003.

AIRS data already available to scientists include the most accurate, highest spectral resolution measurements ever taken from space of the infrared brightness (radiance) of Earth’s atmosphere. This information can be used to make more accurate predictions of weather and climate. More advanced data products are expected to become available later this year. The data will include atmospheric temperature and humidity profiles as well as additional environmental measurements on various types of clouds, particularly the thin veil of cirrus clouds that covers Earth. In addition, new data are expected on concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and volcanic sulfur dioxide.

Aqua imagery has captured numerous dramatic events of the past year. On June 24, 2002, the day that Aqua’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) was turned on, its data were used to produce MODIS imagery of fires in Australia. MODIS also captured extensive flooding of three major river systems along the Gulf of Mexico resulting from heavy rains, dust storms in the Middle East and Mediterranean, the October 2002 eruption of Mt. Etna (also captured well by the AIRS data), and the Biscuit fires in Oregon and California in August 2002.

In early June 2002, the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for the Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) produced Aqua’s first global map of sea surface temperatures. AMSR-E also recorded images of Typhoon Rammasun in the East China Sea on July 4, 2002, and Typhoon Higos approaching Japan on October 1, 2002. This instrument was provided by the National Space Development Agency of Japan.

The Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) detects the amount of outgoing heat and reflected sunlight leaving the planet, providing critical information about the Earth?s radiation budget. An understanding of this budget and how clouds affect it is essential for understanding changes in our climate. In addition to the information the CERES instruments (Aqua has two) are providing about the radiation budget as a whole, CERES also reveals information about how various features, such as Hurricane Lili on October 1, 2002, affect outgoing shortwave and longwave radiation.

The Aqua satellite won a 2002 Best of What’s New Award from “Popular Science” and the Aqua Science Team received the Nelson P. Jackson Aerospace Award from the National Space Club.

The Humidity Sounder for Brazil (HSB) has provided valuable humidity soundings through the atmosphere, and these are being analyzed in a variety of studies. However, the HSB ceased operating on February 5, 2003, and the Aqua team continues to troubleshoot the instrument.

Aqua is the latest in a series of the Earth Observing System spacecraft, following the Terra satellite launched in December 1999. Like Aqua, Terra contains a MODIS and two CERES in its instrument complement. Aqua crosses the equator 28-30 times a day, doing so at 1:30 p.m. as it heads north and at 1:30 a.m. as it heads south. The observation times contrast with the Terra satellite, which crosses the equator between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m. going south and between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. going north. The combination of data from these two missions provides important insights into the daily variations of key scientific parameters such as snow coverage and ocean color.

Aqua is an international partnership between the United States, Japan and Brazil. During its six-year mission, Aqua will collect data on global temperature variations, the cycling of water, global precipitation, evaporation, ocean productivity, land vegetation, sea ice, land ice, snow cover, and how clouds and surface-water processes affect climate. The information will help scientists better understand how global ecosystems change, and how they respond to and affect global environmental change.

NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth system science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

For more information about Aqua on the Internet, visit:

For information about data products from instruments mentioned above, on the Internet, visit:

AIRS and AMSU Data:

AMSR-E Data:

CERES Images:



Cynthia M. O’Carroll
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
(Phone: 301-614-5563)


CERES First Light
CERES Instrument Measures Refelected Light
These Aqua images show CERES measurements over the United States from June 22, 2002. In the left image, clear ocean regions appear dark blue and reflect the least amount of sunlight back to space. Clear land areas, in lighter blue, reflect more solar energy. Clouds and snow-covered surfaces, shown in white and green, reflect the most sunlight. In the right image, clear warm regions, shown in yellow and red emit more heat. High, cold clouds, shown in blue and white, significantly reduce the amount of heat lost to space. IMAGE CREDIT: NASA Langley

CERES Picks up Hurricanes
CERES Picks up Hurricanes
These Aqua images show CERES measurements over the United States and the Gulf of Mexico from October 1, 2002. Visible are Hurricane Lili at the center of the image and tropical storm Kyle located to the upper right. The high, cold clouds of the hurricane shown in blue and white, significantly reduce the amount of heat lost to space. CREDIT: NASA Langley

Aqua's Look at Sea Surface Temperature May 1, 2003
Aqua's Look at Sea Surface Temperature May 1, 2003
This image of sea surface temperatures was created from AMSR-E instrument data. Temperatures range from -2 C (28 F) in the darkest green to 35 C (95 F) in the brightest yellow. Sea ice is shown as white and land as dark gray. The strip of red coloring across the eastern equatorial Pacific indicates colder temperatures than the yellows in the western equatorial Pacific, suggesting non-El Ni�o conditions. IMAGE CREDIT: Jesse Allen, NASA/GSFC

3-D View of the Atmosphere
3-D View of the Atmosphere
AIRS data from September 8, 2002 helped create this 3-D view of the atmosphere over the western Mediterranean Sea. Colored layers represent areas of equal temperature, and the tropopause (8 miles/12 km high) is represented by the folded layers of purple, blue, and green. The coldest green layer on the right is the edge of the colder tropopause typical of the tropics. Very warm air over the Sahara desert is seen in the red colors in the lower right. Credit: NASA JPL

Average Temperatures April 2003
Average Temperatures April 2003
Aqua's AIRS instrument senses temperature using infrared wavelengths. This image shows temperature of the Earth's surface or clouds covering it. The scale ranges from 192 degrees Kelvin (-114 Fahrenheit) in black/blue to 320K (116 F) in red. The Intertropical Convergence Zone, an equatorial region of persistent thunderstorms and high, cold clouds is depicted in yellow. Higher latitudes are increasingly obscured by clouds, though some features like the Great Lakes are apparent. Northernmost Europe and Eurasia are completely obscured by clouds, while Antarctica stands out cold and clear at the bottom of the image. CREDIT: NASA JPL

News Date: 
Thursday, May 29, 2003
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