U.S., Japan space out for collaborative watery mission
by Judith Lea Garfield
Oct 30, 2013 | 10375 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As the world turns, the NASA–JAXA core-research satellite will be launched as part of the Global Precipitation Mission, orbiting Earth along with other internationally launched satellites to provide global rain and snow data at three-hour intervals.                               Courtesy NASA
As the world turns, the NASA–JAXA core-research satellite will be launched as part of the Global Precipitation Mission, orbiting Earth along with other internationally launched satellites to provide global rain and snow data at three-hour intervals. Courtesy NASA
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When I entered NASA’s “Let it Snow” international photo competition as part of a climate studies course, I didn’t expect to win. My tongue-in-cheek photo depicted drifts of snowlike seafoam washed ashore. A month later, when I received email congratulations for my winning photo, now a permanent fixture on NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement webpage (pmm.-nasa.gov/node/763), I decided to find out what was behind the seemingly whimsical contest.

Turns out, it’s an exciting joint project between the U.S. and Japan, which will make for a game-changer in the near future of weather and climate forecasting and understanding.

Presently, it seems we are bombarded with wayward weather reports, leading many of us believe we are better weather forecasters than the experts. But our experts could do better at tracking weather as it forms, moves, intensifies and abates if they not only had access to a massively larger set of weather observations but that said data were continually updated since weather can change on a dime.

To bring this to reality would require many more weather satellites than we have or can afford to operate. More weather satellites do orbit the planet but they are owned and operated by other countries, and each collects data independently of one another. That’s not terribly efficient because the data can’t be shared because the data sets are customized to each country’s own standards (connecting observations from one system to another would be akin to trying to standardize a wallet containing dollars, Euros, rupees and sheckles).

What to do?

Enter the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, a joint undertaking by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with cooperation from a consortium of international space agencies with their own orbiting weather satellites. The mission involves launching a “Core Observatory” research satellite next year, which will carry the first instruments able to make three-dimensional measurements of precipitation from space.

The Core will also act as a sort-of Grand Central Station (i.e., the reference standard) for worldwide weather sharing by collecting and unifying all incoming global rain and snow observations from the consortium’s satellites to make them meaningful. These data will be updated every three hours (how long it takes for all the satellites to observe precipitation over the entire globe).

What the GPM mission gets us for our money will advance our scientific understanding of Earth’s water and energy cycle, meaning we can expect improved climate models, which will translate to improved regional weather and precipitation forecasts and warnings (a welcome development).

To date, it has been the Wild West up in the sky in terms of weather satellites but now we are on a (GPM) mission to follow the water. Knowing where and how much precipitation falls globally is vital to our understanding of the complexities that make up weather and climate, which impact all life on Earth (seafoam formation being just one remarkable example).

I see now that NASA’s photo competition was not the least bit frivolous because it not only brings awareness of the program but the GPM website will allow the public access to the same Core satellite data as the experts.

For more information, visit pmm.-nasa.gov/GPM/science-objectives.
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