Monday, November 18, 2013

NASA & the GPM

Before I get into the details of what I think is a life altering satellite for all of mankind in so many ways, let me tell you first that I attended the GPM Media day at NASA, and was given a tour of the facilities & clean rooms and many of the pictures included were ones taken by my iPhone (thank you Apple, oh, & NASA as it was an incredible day!) and others were gleaned from data online. I am usually caught up in the really awesome things that NASA has done, is doing, and has planned to do as it relates to space so I must say this was quite an eye-opener. Anyway, let me get on with it and tell you everything from the “who, what when where, & why, and a little more!” 

What is GPM? The Global Precipitation Measurement satellite is a satellite that will be able to give rain/snow even ice measurements from space; this mission is the joint effort of NASA & JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency)Why is that different from other weather satellites? In addition to being able to provide the data worldwide every three hours with advanced instruments allowing the measurements to be more exact and detailed, this will also unite the data received from an international network of partner satellites that currently measure such things and circle the globe each at varying longitudes and latitudes, crisscrossing the entire world. The core satellite, the GPM core observatory will be flying at 407 kilometers. The GPM Core Observatory/satellite will be lifting off via a Japanese H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Island, Japan sometime in 2014.

How can that help us? The answer gets better whether we are helping the US or helping the world. The broad reaching abilities of this satellite will enable better model creation/predictors of on the ground situations or either upcoming droughts, floods, or other situations that result from too much or too little precipitation. (Needs such as medical aid for malaria can be predicted.)

Simply put the GPM mission will advance our understanding of the water & energy cycles here on Earth. Better details provided mean better forecasting of extreme events such as landslides due to rain or drought due to the lack of it. Before I mentioned rain/snow and even ice; Measurements on the ground of snow or ice events is basically impossible. Yes it is attempted, but you know from shoveling that a difference of 1 or 2 yards differs from the wind displacing it or other factors. Measuring the precipitation before it even hits the ground, following it from various altitudes will paint a far better picture. The GPM travels from 65 degrees South to 65 degrees North from the Antarctic Circle to the Arctic Circle in a non-sun-synchronous orbit.

You want more details?  No problem. The GPM satellite in addition to working with an entire league of other satellites (the US TRMM satellite, as well as satellites from Japan, France, India, and Europe) will also have onboard two special instruments. The GPM Microwave Imager (GMI) which allows for the capture of precipitation intensities & the Dual Frequency Radar (DPR) which provides insight into the 3-D structure of precipitating particles. (The GMI uses 13 different microwave channels observing energy through the clouds detecting amounts for anything from drizzle to blizzard.) This gives the GPM the necessary data to create a database that may then compare this data to the data collected by its partner satellites.

        So the GPM satellite will provide:

·        Improved knowledge as to the Earth’s water cycle & its link to climate change.

·        More insight into precipitation microphysics, storm structures, & large-scale atmospheric processes.

·        Better allow for monitoring & predicting hurricanes, typhoons, and other extreme weather (due in part to the collaboration of partner satellites)

·        Better data & numbers means better forecasting abilities – medical outbreaks, floods, drought, landslides….

·        As data collected will be available to ALL, enhanced numerical prediction skills for weather & climate.

·        AND better crop forecasting and monitoring of freshwater resources.

(picture of weather charts!)



FINALLY….A little more in depth as to what it will enable. The TRMM satellite (Tropically Rainfall & Measurement Mission) originally was tasked to provide data on rainfall and heat release associated with it. Covering the tropical & semi-tropical regions, TRMM’s data assisted in gaining an understanding of the water cycle. Now, it will be one of many contributing satellites with GPM at the helm. Extending our view to satellites in general, the unsung heroes of our skies, they have enabled us to observe the precipitation changes over the life cycle of a storm – whether it moves over ocean or land. Insights have been gathered that have helped us to understand how a hurricane operates, how tropical cyclones intensify with the presence of ‘hot tower’ structures. Above is a picture of the ‘hot tower’ structures as seem by the TRMM satellite in Hurricane Bonnie.

While the TRMM was revolutionary in how it ‘saw’ cyclones and rain storms, there is still so much to know, to forecast, and it is all over the globe not only in the tropical regions. GPM promises to expand these estimates beyond the tropics. The measure of not only the intensity but also the variability of 3-dimensional latent heating structures of precipitation systems as well as the microphysics & surface water fluxes. Large events involving water in some state (rain or snow) have a great impact on the world and global circulation. From large frontal systems to the increased frequency in storms the size of Sandy or the Philippine’s recent visitor, it is important we understand these larger storms, forecast even better so we can save more lives or prevent more tragedies, and plant crops with a more intuitive manner.

So thank you to TRMM (actually a continued thanks as it will be a contributing member though switch its focus) but the enhancements and greater capabilities of GPM will reduce the uncertainty in our global water and energy budget – and when I say OUR, I mean mankind.  

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