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Infrared Sounder Producing Weather Data
Nov 2002
NASHUA, N.H., Nov. 6 -- BAE SYSTEMS' atmospheric infrared sounder (AIRS), launched May 2002 on board the Aqua earth-observing system (EOS), has completed engineering checkout and calibration operations and is now transmitting continuous, uninterrupted data to the Project Science team, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent organization of the National Weather Service.

AIRS, a space-borne research tool designed to make highly accurate measurements of air temperature and humidity on a global scale, was developed for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory by BAE SYSTEMS' Information and Electronic Warfare Systems unit.

"The 'first light' data from the AIRS spectrometer and its two companion instruments -- the advanced microwave sounding unit and the humidity sounder for Brazil -- are exceeding the expectations of the world's meteorological community," said Moustafa Chahine, science team leader at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The results, project scientists say, will substantially increase accuracy of short-term weather predictions; improve tracking of severe weather events, like hurricanes; and allow advances in climate research.

"The three sounding instruments working together will comprehensively capture a continuous detailed picture of Earth's atmosphere for use in global weather prediction and climate studies," said Chahine.

AIRS uses high-performance infrared detectors to obtain complete 3-D observations of weather from the surface through clouds and up to the top of the atmosphere with "unprecedented accuracy," said Morse. With nearly 2,400 channels sensing different regions of the atmosphere, the system creates a global, 3-D map of atmospheric temperature and humidity and provides information on clouds, greenhouse gases, and many other atmospheric phenomena.

According to Chahine, "The accuracy of computer models is dependent upon the quality of today's weather information. AIRS will effectively multiply the existing 4,000 weather balloons by 100, giving us global coverage over land and sea from space with the same data quality as ground-launched balloons. This additional data will dramatically reduce errors that have traditionally limited the range of current weather forecast models."

After a short science validation phase, AIRS data will be integrated into existing weather prediction models by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction and six of the world's leading weather prediction centers. Data will also be distributed to the World Meteorological Organization in Switzerland, where it will be made available to more than 100 countries.

NASA is working with NOAA and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts to facilitate the incorporation of the Aqua data into their operational weather forecasting efforts.

Aqua is a joint project between the US, Japan and Brazil.

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