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Ways NASA Studies the Ocean

Ways NASA Studies the Ocean

This image shows an image of Earth from space. It was taken by the crew of the final Apollo mission as the crew made its way to the Moon. The Earth is round. At the bottom, while clouds surround the continent of Antarctica. As you move up, the landmass appears in the land is brown in color. The ocean appears in dark blue colors. Credit: NASAALT

Ways NASA Studies the Ocean

We live on a water planet. The ocean covers a huge part of the Earth’s surface – earning it the name Blue Marble.

The ocean is one of Earth’s largest ecosystems and helps moderate Earth’s climate. NASA scientists spend a lot of time studying the ocean and how it is changing as Earth’s climate changes.

In the last few years, NASA has launched an array of missions dedicated to studying this precious part of our planet, with more to come. For World Oceans Month, which starts in June, here are new ways NASA studies the ocean.

1. Seeing the colors of the ocean 🎨

A new NASA mission called PACE will see Earth’s oceans in more color than ever before. The color of the ocean is determined by the interaction of sunlight with substances or particles present in seawater.

Scheduled to launch in 2024, PACE will help scientists assess ocean health by measuring the distribution of phytoplankton, tiny plants and algae that sustain the marine food web. PACE will also continue measuring key atmospheric variables associated with air quality and Earth’s climate.

This moving image shows the SWOT  satellite moving over a 75-mile swath of Earth. The background is black. The satellite moves from left to right in  the upper part of if the illustration. The satellite is a gold cylinder with blue solar panels and a T-shaped piece extending from it. As it moves in a straight line from to back it beams down pink and green light to show how it collects measurements. Below the beams, a rainbow light appears to show data collection. At the bottom of the moving image, a square image of Earth appears, circling. The square contains clouds and blue water. In the middle, a landmass is covered in dark green patches. Credit: NASA/JPL-CaltechALT

2. Surveying surface water around the globe 💧

The SWOT satellite, launched in late 2022, is studying Earth’s freshwater – from oceans and coasts to rivers, lakes and more – to create the first global survey of Earth’s surface water.

SWOT is able to measure the elevation of water, observing how major bodies of water are changing and detecting ocean features. The data SWOT collects will help scientists assess water resources, track regional sea level changes, monitor changing coastlines, and observe small ocean currents and eddies.

This illustration shows ocean currents around North and South America from space. The shape is a half-circle with a black background. To the left of the image, North and South American are a light brown color. North America is tilted to the left while South America is seen partially at the bottom center. From left to right, white circles cover earth showing the motion of a current. Under these white swirls, Earth’s Atlantic Ocean is signified in a light blue color. Credit: NASAALT

3. Setting sail to understand interactions between the ocean and atmosphere 🚢

With research aircraft, a research ship, and autonomous ocean instruments like gliders, NASA’s S-MODE mission is setting sail to study Earth’s oceans up close. Their goal? To understand ocean whirlpools, eddies and currents.

These swirling ocean features drive the give-and-take of nutrients and energy between the ocean and atmosphere and, ultimately, help shape Earth’s climate.

This image, taken from the HawkEye instrument, shows Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. The land is colored light brown and green. In the middle of the image, blue and green colored water shows the Atlantic Ocean to the right. The water comes in between the land, branching out to form the Chesapeake Bay itself. Credit: NASA; University of North Carolina, Wilmington; Cloudland Instruments; AAC-Clyde SpaceALT

4. Building ocean satellites the size of a shoebox 📦

NASA’s HawkEye instrument collects ocean color data and captures gorgeous images of Earth from its orbit just over 355 miles (575 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. It’s also aboard a tiny satellite measuring just 10cm x 10 cm x 30 cm – about the size of a shoebox!

​​This image shows dense blooming of phytoplankton. The plankton are represented in light and dark shades of green surrounding the island Svenskøya in the Svalbard archipelago located in the center of the image. The landmass is in the center of the image, colored in a light gray. Surrounding it is the plankton and blue water. Credit: NASAALT

5. Designing new missions to study Earth’s oceans! 🌊

NASA is currently designing a new space-based instrument called GLIMR that will help scientists observe and monitor oceans throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the southeastern U.S. coastline and the Amazon River plume that stretches to the Atlantic Ocean. GLIMR will also provide important information about oil spills, harmful algae blooms, water quality and more to local agencies.

This illustration shows animated movement of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite. At the bottom of the image, the Earth appears moving in a circular pattern. The planet is depicted with brown and green landmasses with water surrounding it. Above Earth, the satellite appears moving from left to right. The satellite is shaped in a triangle, colored in purple and gold. It beams down circular beams which simulate data collection. Credit: NASA/JPLALT

6. Taking the ocean to new heights ⬆️

The U.S.-European Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite is helping researchers measure the height of the ocean – a key component in understanding how Earth’s climate is changing.

This mission, which launched in 2020, has a serious job to do. It’s not only helping meteorologists improve their weather forecasts, but it’s helping researchers understand how climate change is changing Earth’s coastlines in real time.

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