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  • Oceans, Atmosphere the Focus of New NASA Mission

Photonics Spectra
May 2015

A satellite mission scheduled for launch in 2022 is expected to give NASA a whole new understanding of Earth’s ocea ns and atmosphere, further advancing the study of the impact environmental changes are having on ocean health and the planet’s carbon cycle.

The Pre-Aerosol Clouds and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission – based at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland – will study the planet’s aquatic ecology and chemistry, according to scientists involved with the project. It will also allow them to “address the uncertainty in our understanding of how clouds and small airborne particles called aerosols affect Earth’s climate.”

The PACE mission will produce images such as this one – generated from data obtained by the NASA SeaWiFS mission – allowing for advanced study of Earth’s aquatic ecology and chemistry.

The PACE mission will produce images such as this one – generated from data obtained by the NASA SeaWiFS mission – allowing for advanced study of Earth’s aquatic ecology and chemistry.



Specifically, PACE will provide a global view of microscopic ocean algae called phytoplankton, which produce at least half of Earth’s oxygen and form the base of the marine food chain. The mission will make more prevalent the colors of the ocean, from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared; changes in the ocean’s color can help identify harmful algae blooms, according to the scientists.

More accurate measurements of biological and chemical ocean properties will be gathered as well, including the phytoplankton’s biomass and the composition of its communities.

Phytoplankton’s response to environmental and ecosystem changes or stresses, including ocean acidification, varies, as does its size and function. “Knowing more about global phytoplankton community composition will help us understand how living marine resources respond to a changing climate,” said Jeremy Werdell, PACE project scientist at Goddard.

In addition to this part of the mission, PACE will be able to measure clouds and tiny airborne particles (dust, smoke and aerosols) in Earth’s atmosphere. Such measurements are critical for understanding the flow of natural and human-made aerosols in the environment, the scientists said, noting that aerosols affect how energy moves in and out of the planet’s atmosphere directly by scattering sunlight, and indirectly by changing the composition of clouds. Aerosols can also affect the formation of precipitation in clouds and change rainfall patterns.

The blend of atmospheric and oceanic observations collected by PACE is critical, as ocean biology is affected by aerosols deposited onto the ocean, which in turn produce aerosol precursors that influence atmospheric composition and climate.


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