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Worldwide Student Community discovers Cloud Layers invisible to Earth exploration satellites

by Rusti 2011-11-28 14:12

While new NASA Hubble Space Telescope discovers globular clusters, spherical collections of hundreds of thousands of stars in the outer halo of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring dwarf galaxy of the Milky Way, the Terra and Astra low orbit satellites are exploring the Earth ecosystem. The Terra and Aqua satellites are using the high resolution optical devices to gather wide spectrum visual information of the Earth ecosystem. Clouds and multi layered cloud formations are an important part of the Earth live organism. Special computer simulation methods has been developed to analyze information about clouds. For example the Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System, or CERES Imager algorithms to support the operation of the the Tropical Rainforest Measuring Mission NASA spacecraft.  

The CERES Imager algorithms are used to perform analysis of the data collected by Terra and Aqua satellites. Data collected by CERES satellite sensors and further analyzed by Imager algorithms allows to generate computer models to show how clouds affect Earth's climate and to improve climate forecasts. The satellite optical systems are best perform in a completely clear sky, but from the satellite's orbit it could be be a challenge in certain weather conditions, given the variable background of the Earth's surface. The satellite may not be able to see through multiple layers of clouds to capture the complete picture. To help improve the accuracy of the information collected by the Terra and Aqua satellites the teams of on the ground observers are capturing the images of the lower layers of the clouds in the skies. This way scientists could be sure that the information from the satellites combined with the images captured from the Earth surface together are making an accurate observations. In a number of instances, cloud observations made from the Earth surface  reported a single layer of clouds in a particular areas while the corresponding satellite was reporting a clear sky. 

Earth Ecosystem and Cloud formationsTo establish new channel capable to collect the missing observations information worldwide NASA climate scientists  engaged worldwide students communities into the science advisory process. Students' Cloud Observations On-Line hands-on project supports NASA research on Earth's climate. The project helped validate Earth-observing Terra and Aqua satellites and look further into the discrepancies in cloud formation studies. Students were reporting small amounts of thin cirrus clouds, which are not detectable by the Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System on board the satellite. The worldwide team of Students' Cloud Observations On-Line community and NASA scientists effort have covered the gap of vital information very useful to adjust the computer simulation methods and analyze when, where and how often low cloud patterns that are hidden under higher  layers of clouds occur. As satellites can not see through layers, often missing the lower layer cloud patterns, the Students' Cloud Observations On-Line community helps to build the better and more complete picture of the Earth Ecosphere, performing cloud observations from the ground. The data gathered by students includes longitude, latitude and elevation information and is most useful to confirm the cloud scenes that are difficult to detect with satellite passive remote sensing. Mexican students actively involved in the international Cloud Observations On-Line  project completed the 100,000 cloud observations.  

With detailed observations coming from student community, scientists can now quantify how often satellites overlook cirrus clouds. The team also provided a more accurate approach for comparing cloud cover between the ground and the satellite. This improvement came as a result of another inconsistency found between satellite and ground  observations, students were reporting clear skies while satellites were reporting overcast skies. The difference often occurred when observers were located on the edge of a longitude and latitude line, and in many cases, student observations were being compared to satellite data that covered a different grid region than their actual location. To synchronize the grid region boundaries and actual location information and to further enhance the scope of the observations the team uses wide variety of GPS navigators which provide high precision longitude, latitude and elevation information acquired via GPS satellite constellations such as GNSS and GLONASS. 

CALIPSO satellite observations of Earth Ecosystem

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