On the proposed budget chopping block are the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) experiment; the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder; and the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).
And while some people will say they have never heard of these programs, they may have, at one time or another, seen the images that are sent back to Earth. But after the 2016 election, a Trump advisor said the president intended to do away with NASA's climate change research, and the four missions are at least geared in part to studying climate science, reports Live Science
Originally, NASA had projected to spend $27.9 million on CLARREO Pathfinder, $9.5 million on OCO-3 and $1.2 million on DSCOVR in fiscal year 2018. PACE, which is still in the development stage, had no funds allotted yet, reports Space.com
. So let's look at the four programs and see what it is they are designed to do and what we will loose if they are axed.
Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite
NASA's PACE mission
is a first-of-its-kind project that aims to answer key questions about the consequences of climate change on the health of our oceans, and in turn, the relationship they have with airborne particles and clouds.
The main instrument in the PACE satellite is called the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI) and it collects spectral measurements outside the normal spectrum, from the ultraviolet to the shortwave infrared. These measurements would be used to examine and monitor how phytoplankton communities change over time.
Because the spectral range has been improved, the instrumentation will also allow for the identification of the different species of phytoplankton, something previous instruments have been unable to accomplish. And this is important because phytoplankton plays an essential role in the oceans. They are the base of the marine food chain.
Use of the PACE satellite to provide visual data as well as measurements of the changing patterns in phytoplankton composition as well as the possible emergence of potentially harmful algal blooms is a priority in monitoring the ocean's health as the Earth continues to warm. Remember, PACE is still in development and no funds have been allocated to the mission.
Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder
NASA's CLARREO Pathfinder mission
was designed and is planned to be installed on the International Space Station in 2020. This "mini-mission" is intended to test some of the instruments that will be aboard a full CLARREO mission to be launched in the near future.
The CLARREO mission is intended to provide a meteorology laboratory in orbit to accurately quantify and attribute Earth's climate change. But as originally envisioned in 2010, the mission consisted of four observatories on two dual-manifested launches on Minotaur IV+ vehicles.
But reduced funding in 2016 forced a revamp of the whole mission, and thus was born the CLARREO Pathfinder mission. If this mission is allowed to go through, it has the funding that would support the flight of a Reflected Solar (RS) spectrometer, hosted on the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2020 time frame. We would get feedbacks that would include temperature and water vapor feedbacks, cloud feedbacks, and decadal change of temperature profiles, water vapor profiles, clouds, and greenhouse gas radiative effects, among other parameters.
Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) experiment
NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) experiment
is another mission that would be mounted on the International Space Station with an expected launch date of 2018. Now, folks, this mission is in my estimation, a very important and necessary project.
This mission will is meant to investigate important questions about the distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth as it relates to growing urban populations and changing patterns of fossil fuel combustion. The neat thing about OCO-3, as compared to earlier OCO missions is that it will allow for daily observations and measurements of CO2 release and uptake in plants and trees, particularly in the world's rainforests.
Because rainforests have the largest stores of above ground carbon on Earth, information derived from daily measurements is crucial for explaining global variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. And NASA won't need to have any new parts for the OCO-3 mission manufactured because they are going to use spare parts from previous missions. Oh, just so everyone knows, the Earth's atmospheric CO2 level
for March 16 was 406.54 ppm.
Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is a joint mission with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA. The Earth observation and space weather satellite
was launched by SpaceX on a Falcon-9 launch vehicle on February 11, 2015, from Cape Canaveral.
As an interesting bit of historical trivia, this satellite was first proposed in 1998 by then Vice-president Al Gore as an Earth observation mission. The DISCOVR satellite's main science instrument sets are the Sun-observing Plasma Magnetometer (PlasMag) and the Earth-observing NIST Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR) and Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC). It is in a sun-Earth orbit or Lissajous orbit 1,500,000 kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth.
DISCOVR measures solar wind conditions and provides gives us an early warning of approaching coronal mass ejections, as well as observing phenomena on Earth including changes in ozone, aerosols, dust and volcanic ash, cloud height, vegetation cover and climate. So it stays fairly busy all the time.
Most people are probably familiar with the images sent back from DISCOVR because they are awesome and unbelievably beautiful. It would be such a shame if this mission was cut because it could have implications for the world if the sun experienced a mass coronal ejection. This is something we do need to know about.