The Air Down There ocean-Aerosol-Cloud connectionS from SPACE

NASA's Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission is being developed. Its key technology is a state-of-the-art Ocean Color Instrument (OCI).

PACE will also include two polarimeters, which measure how sunlight oscillates within a geometric plane.

The lenses of polarized sunglasses have chemical filters...
...designed to absorb horizontal light waves...
...while allowing vertical waves to pass through.
Because light only travels in one plane...
...after passing through polarized lenses...
...glare is reduced.

When light interacts with clouds or suspended particles (known as aerosols), it comes away from that interaction changed. By measuring the change in the light's polarization or color, we can infer things about the clouds or aerosols themselves.

So, PACE's polarimeters will provide another dimension of information about the atmosphere and ocean. These data will complement the color measurements taken by the OCI.

How are Earth's clouds, aerosols, and ocean connected?

In countless ways! Here's one example...

Wind blows dust over the ocean...
...supplying iron to fuel phytoplankton growth.
Some phytoplankton release dimethyl sulfide (DMS) gas that turns into an aerosol...
...in our atmosphere and can contribute to the formation of clouds...
...and happens to smell like cooked cabbage.

This particular ocean-atmosphere connection may have impacts on climate. How? If phytoplankton create more clouds, it could decrease the amount of sunlight – and heat –reaching Earth's surface.

Furthermore, aerosols and clouds data from PACE will help to capture a complete and accurate picture of how much energy the Earth is absorbing from the sun.

Any other reasons for PACE to study the ocean and atmosphere together?

The satellite will view light reflected from Earth's surface...
...after it has passed through the atmosphere below.

In fact, most of the light – about 90% – detected by PACE will come from the atmosphere and its aerosols.

Only a small fraction of the light comes from the ocean. PACE will take this into account when deciphering its ocean color data.

Click on any image for a higher-res view. Data were collected over the Arabian Sea, on January 15, 2018, by the VIIRS instrument aboard the Suomi-NPP spacecraft.

Image sequence from upper left to lower right:

  • View from top of the atmosphere.
  • Effect of scattering from gases – which makes the sky look blue – has been removed.
  • Aerosols have been partially cleared away to reveal more ocean features.
  • Adjusted image showing regions with higher chlorophyll (green pigment found in phytoplankton) brightened, haze darkened, and data stripes reduced. (Note that PACE's OCI is being designed to minimize data striping.)

How will PACE aid in our understanding of the ocean and atmosphere?

In addition to detecting the full visible spectrum, the OCI will sense shorter (Ultraviolet) and longer (Infrared) wavelengths. With the OCI and polarimeters, PACE will measure an exceptionally broad range of wavelengths to reveal new details about our ocean and atmosphere.

PACE's fine-resolution measurements over a broad spectrum of light is known as hyperspectral imaging.

Scheduled to launch in 2022, PACE will extend and improve NASA's over 20-year record of observing ocean life, aerosols, and clouds.

We need to monitor Earth's ocean-aerosol-cloud system with ever-improving technologies. That's clearly the best way to go.

More Wavelengths. Better Resolution.

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