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NASA Gives Ozone Layer A Checkup

New instrument aboard Suomi Earth-observation satellite will

Elizabeth Montalbano

February 24, 2012

3 Min Read

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

NASA has activated another instrument aboard a recently launched satellite that will collect data about the planet's ailing ozone layer to help scientists monitor its return to health.

The Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS), one of five instruments aboard NASA's Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, soon will be transmitting data to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about the condition of Earth's stratospheric ozone, which keeps harmful levels of the sun's ultraviolet radiation from reaching Earth, according to NOAA.

The OMPS is now the third instrument aboard Suomi to be operational. Already taking measurements are the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), which studies the atmosphere's 3-D structure of temperature and water vapor; and the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), which measures temperature and humidity in both clear and cloudy conditions.

Scientists have been keeping an eye on the ozone layer since the 1970s, when it was first predicted that an increase in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) would begin eroding it.

[ NASA Seeks More Money For Space Technology. Learn what they're hoping to do with additional spending power. ]

The 1987 United Nations Montreal Protocol agreement phased out and eventually eliminated the use of ozone-depleting substances in an effort to protect the layer, which is expected to begin a period of recovery in the next three decades, according to NOAA.

With OMPS, the agency has a new way to monitor the ozone layer's return to health. The instrument looks at upper parts of the atmosphere to observe the distribution of ozone and can help verify how it fares during the crucial recovery period, according to NOAA.

"Ozone depletion has been a major concern for decades," said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Service, in a statement. "Scientists need reliable technology that tracks ozone from space, and OMPS gives us the opportunity."

The OMPS itself is comprised of three instruments--two that look downward called nadir mapper and nadir profiler, and a new instrument called the limb profiler that looks at the atmosphere from the side. It's this last instrument that can accurately estimate how the ozone is distributed, according to NOAA, while the nadir mapper and profiler monitor the total amounts of ozone as they cover the entire globe.

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 Center is managing the Suomi NPP mission for the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. NOAA and the Department of Defense funded the OMPS instrument.

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