An end to cloudy days for ocean researchers
(CNN) -- Imagine being able to see the oceans from space without any clouds.
A new satellite called Aqua can do just that, using six different instruments to peer through cloud cover and give scientists a clear view of Earth's oceans no matter whether skies are clear or cloudy on the ground.
Launched on May 4 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Aqua produces images and generates data that give scientists new information about Earth and its oceans. According to NASA, the satellite's first pictures, its so called "first-light" images, are giving scientists a new view of the world's surface temperatures -- an aid in monitoring changing conditions on the planet.
Previously, cloud cover prevented accurate measuring of ocean temperatures. But an instrument on Aqua called the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for the Earth Observing System, or AMSR-E, can resolve temperatures through clouds with a high degree of accuracy.
AMSR-E receives passive microwave signals, meaning it doesn't project microwave and then take what bounces back. It just collects what is out there naturally, said Claire Parkinson, Aqua project scientist.
And cloud cover does not impede all channels of microwaves, so AMSR-E can take accurately assess water surface temperatures, Parkinson said.
The water cycle determines Earth's climate, and water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas.
Ocean temperatures are significant because large bodies of water serve as heat reservoirs for the planet. They move as conditions become warmer. By staying abreast of ocean temperatures, scientists can gather clues about what is changing on Earth and why.
Scientists can use AMSR-E to study precipitation, near-surface wind speeds, sea surface temperature, soil moisture and snow cover.
The Aqua satellite has a suite of six advanced systems and there are five separate teams assessing data they collect, Parkinson said.
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