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article imageScience and tech join in tracking global warming with Suomi-NPP

By Karen Graham     Dec 17, 2015 in Environment
In the last 650,000 years, the Earth has seen seven glacial events, with the last Ice Age occurring about 7,000 years ago, leading to the beginning of the modern climate era. Since then, humans have played a significant role in changes in our climate.
Last week, the world's nations agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a historic pact aimed at setting a goal to hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Reaching this momentous agreement involved a lot of discussions, study, and information gathering around the globe.
Much, if not most of the data, statistics and scientific information used to convince the 196 world governments to take action on preserving our environment and way of life came from climatologists and weather scientists around the globe. Using state-of-the-art scientific instruments, technology has evolved so that we can view the Earth in real time, tracking climate change.
If we think of the Earth as a giant greenhouse, it becomes easier to understand what scientists are trying to tell us about global warming. Our sun is a source of energy, and about half of the sun's light passes through the air and clouds, where it's absorbed and in turn radiated back into the sky as infrared radiation or heat.
Now, almost 90 percent of this radiated heat is absorbed by greenhouse gasses, and then it's radiated back toward the Earth's surface, keeping the planet a nice life-sustaining 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius). At least, that is the ideal situation.
But our perfect greenhouse, Earth, has been altered by humans. Not that we meant to change things in any way, but as the world's population has grown, so has industrialization and the use of fossil fuels. With all the advances in technology that have occurred in the past 100 years, there has been little regard for the consequences to the environment, the climate, and ultimately, life on Earth.
Due in part to the warming effects of the greenhouse gases  the global average temperature is about ...
Due in part to the warming effects of the greenhouse gases, the global average temperature is about 15°C (59°F). Without the greenhouse gases the global average temperature would be much colder, about -18°C (0°F).
Columbia University
The Greenhouse effect
We have created something called the "greenhouse effect." This occurs when certain gasses in the atmosphere trap heat radiating back into space, blocking it from escaping, and in turn, warming the Earth. Some of these gases are long-lived and don't change chemically or physically in response to temperature changes, are are said to be "forcing" climate change, according to scientists.
The increased burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture, and other human activities has driven carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere from about 289 parts per million before the industrial revolution to over 360 parts per million, and they are still rising. Other gasses are also contributing to the greenhouse effect, like Nitrous oxide (N2O), water vapor and methane (CH4).
The consequences of the greenhouse effect are predictable, in some ways. The Earth will become warmer, with some areas being warmer than others. This rise in temperatures will lead to increased evaporation and precipitation. Again, some areas will be drier while other areas will become wetter. The oceans will warm and glaciers will melt, as we are already seeing.
Some crops will actually respond to the increased atmospheric CO2 levels, growing faster and more vigorously. But warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will alter crop production, changing the regions where certain crops grow best and changing the makeup of the natural plants found in some regions.
Tracking global warming using sophisticated technology
How do we know this? The answer is in the technology in use today and the science behind it. When man started studying the weather, thousands of years ago, it was mostly by observation, what he saw and experienced in his immediate surroundings. Now we can look at the whole planet, every day.
The Aura atmospheric chemistry satellite celebrated its 10th anniversary on July 15  2015. Since its...
The Aura atmospheric chemistry satellite celebrated its 10th anniversary on July 15, 2015. Since its launch in 2004, Aura has monitored Earth's atmosphere and provided data on the ozone layer, air quality, and greenhouse gases associated with climate change.
Innovations in technology and science have made tracking air quality, atmospheric gasses and temperature changes more accurate, all helping climate scientists to keep abreast of climate change. One of the projects created was the Earth Observing System (EOS), a series of satellites put into orbit for the express purpose of sending back the information needed to track our climate.
The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi-NPP)
The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi-NPP) was a critical first step in the creation of a new generation of EOS satellites. Launched in 2011, the school bus-sized satellite carries five instruments that can trace their origins to earlier NASA projects, such as the Terra, Aqua, and Aura missions.
The first instrument is the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS). The ATMS is a cross-track scanner with 22 channels that provides information on atmospheric temperature and moisture for civilian operational weather forecasting as well as for climate monitoring. The crosstrack Infrared Sounder (CrIS) and the ATMS are operated together, and provide a much broader range of weather conditions than just using the infrared by itself.
Suomi-NPP  is a civilian weather forecasting replacement for the NOAA Polar Operational Environmenta...
Suomi-NPP is a civilian weather forecasting replacement for the NOAA Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) series, and ensured continuity of climate measurements begun by NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS).
Ryan Zuber, Scientific Visualization Studio
The VIIRS, a scanning radiometer, collects visible and infrared imagery and radiometric measurements of the land, atmosphere, cryosphere, and oceans. The data collected by VIIRS is used to measure cloud and aerosols, ocean color, sea and land surface temperatures, ice motion and polar ice extent. Meteorologists use this information in bettering our understanding of trends, such as the increase in nitrogen dioxide in South Asia, and other climate change measurements.
The crosstrack infrared scanner (CrIS) is a Fourier transform spectrometer with 1305 spectral channels, capable of producing high-resolution, three-dimensional temperature, pressure and moisture profiles. It operates with the ATMS in enhancing weather forecasting models, giving us better short-term and long-term forecasts.
The Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite (OMPS) contains two hyperspectral instruments, and is used to measure the global distribution of O3 (Ozone) in the stratosphere. The data from this suite of instruments provides information on monitoring the destruction of ozone in the troposphere. The OMP's data, combined with cloud predictions, also helps produce better ultraviolet index forecasts.
Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) is a three-channel radiometer. Remember the greenhouse effect? The CERES measures solar-reflected and Earth-emitted radiation from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of the Earth. It also sends back data on cloud measurements, including height, thickness, particle size, and the phase of clouds. These measurements are critical to understanding cloud-radiation climate change as well as global warming using climate models.
Our scientific knowledge and technological advances have enabled us to see our planet in a different perspective, and with satellites orbiting our world, our view from space has increased our understanding of the forces, both natural and manmade, that drive our climate. What we do with the information sent back to us from our "weather eyes" in the sky will be up to all of us.
More about Climate change, science and technology, tracking climate change, Greenhouse gasses, Weather satellites
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