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 InfraredPathnder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satel-lite mission, currently under development, will helpscientists answer signicant 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 scientic studies are neces-sary to gain a greater condence 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 morecondence 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 Pathnder (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 reect 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.
National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Hampton, Virginia 23681-2199