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NASA Facts CALIPSO A Global Perspective of Clouds and Aerosols from Space

NASA Facts CALIPSO A Global Perspective of Clouds and Aerosols from Space

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 13, 2011
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CALIPSO: A Global Perspective ofClouds and Aerosols from Space
From reports of increasing temperatures, thinningmountain glaciers and rising sea level, scientists knowthat Earth’s climate is changing. But the processes be-hind these changes are not as clear. Two of the biggestuncertainties in understanding and predicting climatechange are the effects of clouds and aerosols (airborneparticles). The Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and InfraredPathnder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satel-lite mission, currently under development, will helpscientists answer signicant questions about climaticprocesses by providing new information on theseimportant atmospheric components.Scientists use computer programs called climate mod-els to understand the behavior of and make predic-tions about climate. Climate models are mathematicalrepresentations of natural processes. While they areinvaluable tools, more scientic studies are neces-sary to gain a greater condence in their predictions.Clouds and aerosols are important variables in thesemodels. Researchers need to learn more about howthey help cool and warm the Earth, how they interactwith each other and how human activities will changethem and their effect on the climate in the future.The CALIPSO satellite will give scientists a highlyadvanced research tool to study the Earth’s atmo-sphere and will provide the international sciencecommunity with a data set that is essential for a bet-ter understanding of the Earth’s climate. With morecondence in climate model predictions, internationaland national leaders will be able to make more in-formed policy decisions about global climate change.NASA’s Langley ResearchCenter in Hampton ,Va.,leads and manages CALIPSOfor the NASA Earth SystemScience Pathnder (ESSP)program and collaborateswith the French space agencyCentre National d’EtudesSpatiales (CNES), BallAerospace and Technologies Corporation, HamptonUniversity and the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace inFrance. CALIPSO, scheduled for launch in 2004, isdesigned to operate for three years.
The importance of clouds andaerosols to climate change
Everything, from an individual person to Earth as awhole, emits energy. Scientists refer to this energyas radiation. As Earth absorbs incoming sunlight, itwarms up. The planet must emit some of this warmthinto space or increase in temperature. Two compo-nents make up the Earth’s outgoing energy: heat (orthermal radiation) that the Earth’s surface and atmo-sphere emit; and sunlight (or solar radiation) that theland, ocean, clouds and aerosols reect back to space.The balance between incoming sunlight and outgo-ing energy determines the planet’s temperature and,ultimately, climate. Both natural and human-inducedchanges affect this balance, called the Earth’s radia-tion budget.
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Clouds
affect the radiation budget directly byreecting sunlight into space (cooling the Earth) orabsorbing sunlight and heat emitted by the Earth.When clouds absorb sunlight and heat, less energyescapes to space and the planet warms. To under-stand how clouds impact the energy budget, scientistsneed to know the composition of cloud particles, thealtitude of clouds and the extent to which clouds atdifferent altitudes overlap each other.Both natural processes and human activities produceaerosols. They either reect or absorb energy, depend-ing on their size, chemical composition and altitude.The haze layer that is commonly seen in the sum-mertime is one example of an aerosol that primarilyreects sunlight. Soot emitted by diesel engines isan example of an aerosol that absorbs sunlight. Thereection and absorption of energy by aerosols act ina direct way to change the balance between incomingand outgoing energy. These effects are called directaerosol radiative forcing.
Aerosols
also can affect the Earth’s radiation budgetindirectly by modifying the characteristics of clouds.Cloud particles almost always form around aerosolssuch as natural sea salt particles or human-made sul-fate particles. The presence of additional aerosols canchange the way clouds radiate energy and the lengthof time they stay intact. A good example is the waythat exhaust particles emitted into the atmosphere byships can increase the brightness of clouds along theircourse. These effects are called indirect aerosol radia-tive forcing.
Earth’s radiation budget is the balance betweenincoming and outgoing energy.Smoke plumes, such as those from grasslandwildres in southern Africa shown above, containaerosols that directly affect the Earth’s radiationbudget.White cloud streaks over the Pacic Ocean offthe coast of California stem from aerosols emit-ted into the atmosphere in exhaust from ship en-gines. Small water or cloud droplets form aroundthese added aerosols, increasing the brightnessof clouds over the ship tracks as compared to thesurrounding clouds. This example illustrates theindirect effect of aerosols on the Earth’s radiationbudget.
 
A curtain of the atmosphere
Scientists have been observing clouds and aerosolsglobally from space for many years using passiveimagers—sensors that measure the amount of energyleaving Earth. These sensors observe how clouds andaerosols vary with latitude and longitude but providelimited information on how they vary with altitude.To better determine how aerosols and clouds affectthe Earth’s radiation budget, scientists need to studyhow their distribution and properties vary throughoutthe atmosphere at different heights above the surfaceof the Earth.The CALIPSO satellite will provide vertical, curtain-like images of the atmosphere on a global scale usinga lidar. The lidar (light detection and ranging) tech-nique is similar to radar in operation, but lidar usesshort pulses of laser light instead of radio waves toprobe the atmosphere. The lidar data from CALIPSOwill allow scientists to determine precisely the alti-tudes of clouds and aerosol layers and the extent of layer overlap, to identify the composition of cloudsand to estimate the abundance and sizes of aerosols.A three-channel imaging infrared radiometer providedby CNES will also be on the CALIPSO satellite. Thisinstrument has a eld of view of 64 kilometers by 64kilometers (about 40 miles by 40 miles) and measuresoutgoing heat emitted toward space from the atmo-sphere and surface of the Earth. Its design will allowscientists to estimate the size of ice cloud crystals andthe amount of heat these clouds absorb and emit.The CALIPSO satellite will also carry a high-resolu-tion digital camera with a eld of view of 60 kilome-ters by 60 kilometers (about 37 miles by 37 miles).The camera provides a large-scale view of the atmo-sphere surrounding the thin column of air probed bythe lidar. Images from the camera will improve theability of scientists to interpret the lidar observations.For example, the images collected by the camera willallow scientists to determine if the lidar measure-ments are from a small, isolated cloud or a cloud thatis part of a larger air mass.
The future of CALIPSO
CALIPSO is scheduled to y in formation with fourother satellites that will collect a wide variety of coincident measurements. Each satellite in the forma-tion offers unique information on clouds and aerosols.Combining their data will provide greater insight thancould be gained from a single satellite. The EarthObserving System (EOS) Aqua satellite, which isfocused on understanding the Earth’s water or hydro-logical cycle, will collect data on the geographicaldistribution of clouds and aerosols, atmospheric tem-perature, moisture content and the radiation balanceat the top of the atmosphere. CloudSat, a sister ESSPsatellite experiment, will use a radar to provide verti-cal proles of thick clouds that lidar cannot penetrate.The EOS Aura satellite will monitor atmosphericchemistry and dynamics and will provide informationon the geographic distribution of absorbing aerosols.Finally, the PARASOL (Polarization and Anisotropyof Reectances for Atmospheric Science coupled withObservations from a Lidar) satellite, being developedby CNES, will provide unique information on aero-sols and clouds using a multi-channel, wide eld-of-view, polarization-sensitive camera.Upon successful completion of the CALIPSO mis-sion, the collected data will allow scientists to bet-ter understand aerosols and clouds and, ultimately,improve climate models. CALIPSO observationswill improve global estimates of how aerosols af-fect the Earth’s radiation budget and of the ow of heat between the Earth’s surface and the top of theatmosphere. Using CALIPSO, scientists will have anew way to determine how the climate, aerosols andclouds interact.
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The CALIPSO lidar will provide vertical, curtain-like images, such as the one above, of theatmosphere on a global scale.

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