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2/9/2012
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NASA Receives New Atmospheric Data From Suomi Satellite

Advanced instrument on polar-orbiting satellite is helping scientists better forecast weather and study the climate.

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space
NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
A new infrared instrument aboard NASA’s newest earth-observing satellite has started sending atmospheric data back to researchers to help them better forecast severe weather and achieve a better overall understanding of the earth’s climate.

The Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), flying on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite, provides high-vertical-resolution data on the atmosphere’s three-dimensional structure of temperature and water vapor, according to NASA.

With 1,305 spectral channels, the spectrometer is one of the most advanced of its kind, according to NASA. Researchers will use data collected by it for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) weather prediction models, in particular to forecast severe weather days in advance.

[ What technologies are top priority for NASA as it looks to the future? Read more at NRC Identifies High-Priority Technologies For NASA. ]

The CrIS joins Suomi's Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS)--which measures temperature and humidity in both clear and cloudy conditions--as the first instruments aboard the satellite to be activated. Researchers will begin using data form them operationally in weather forecasts in the spring, according to NASA.

While NOAA will use the data in the near term for more accurate weather predictions, it will also use it for more far-sighted research on the earth's climate and overall eco-system.

Specifically, it can help researchers understand climate phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina, which periodically have an effect on global weather patterns, said Mitch Goldberg, NOAA's JPSS program scientist in a press statement.

NASA launched Suomi on Oct. 28 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission is a bridge between two current climate satellite missions--the NOAA's Polar Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) and NASA's Earth Observing System satellites--and the next-generation Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

Sensors aboard Suomi transmit data to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, once every time the satellite orbits Earth. That data is then sent via fiber-optic cable to a NOAA facility in Suitland, Md., for its climate and weather research.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight is managing Suomi for the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters, while NOAA provides the CrIS instrument and operational support. The JPSS program is providing the satellite ground system for Suomi.

Climate research has become a particular focus for NASA in the last year as the agency has expanded its focus beyond space exploration to research areas that have more of an impact on Earth.

InformationWeek's 2012 Government IT Innovators program will feature the most innovative government IT organizations in the 2012 InformationWeek 500 issue and on InformationWeek.com. Does your organization have what it takes? The nomination period for 2012 Government IT Innovators closes April 27.

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