NASA Langley Research Center
HAMPTON, Va. -- A NASA cloud observation project is on a 13-month adventure to help promote ocean health.
S'COOL, Students' Cloud Observations On-Line, was invited by the Around the Americas project to circumnavigate North and South America aboard the Ocean Watch, a steel-hulled, 64-foot sailboat. Visiting 31 ports in 11 countries over the course of a year, Ocean Watch will promote public education and awareness about ocean science and marine conservation.
Ocean Watch departed Seattle May 31 for a trip through the Arctic Northwest Passage, down the Atlantic, around the tip of South America and back to Seattle via the Pacific. The boat's trip through the Northwest Passage over Canada is possible due to the continuing shrinkage of summer Arctic sea ice.
The crew will collect "datasets of opportunity" throughout the expedition including daily cloud observations from the boat for S'COOL during NASA satellite overpass times. This project would represent the first time that cloud observations are collected consistently from the open ocean for the S'COOL project -- a collaboration of NASA scientists who use students' observations in cutting-edge climate research.
"We are very excited to be getting cloud observation reports from the Ocean Watch crew in places where observations normally aren't made," said Lin Chambers, S'COOL Project Director from NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
Chambers added that there are plans to invite Around the Americas followers to make their own cloud observations from their backyards and schools via the S'COOL website.
The collected S'COOL data are used to ground-truth or verify NASA'S CERES instruments aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites. CERES stands for the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System experiment and has been using students' S'COOL observations since 1997. The program began as a small collaboration between the project's scientists -- managed at NASA Langley -- and has expanded to include schools in 54 countries around the globe and nearly 75,000 individual student-reported cloud observations.
The students' work helps researchers double-check the satellite instruments' measurements, which can in certain conditions record more or less cloud cover than actually exists. The goal of the CERES project is to measure the incoming and outgoing radiation in the Earth’s atmosphere in an attempt to learn more about the role clouds play in the planet's dynamic climate.
Clouds remain one of the least understood climate variables. Student observations have mostly agreed with the instruments, but also have consistently shown that the satellite measurements slightly under-detect high-altitude clouds, a shortcoming that would be difficult to reference without a database of student observations.
Schools in the United States still account for more than half of reported cloud observations of S'COOL. But the program's popularity around the world continues to spread. Every continent but Antarctica claimed at least one school participating. About 15 countries in Asia and Europe each have schools that have participated. Schools in 13 Spanish-speaking Latin American countries plus Brazil have reported results, with more than 25 percent of all observations in the past year coming from Latin America.
The Around the Americas project is a partnership between three organizations: Pacific Science Center (PSC), Sailors for the Sea, a Boston-based non-profit organization that promotes ocean protection and restoration, and the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington. For more information about the project or to follow Ocean Watch's progress, go to:
For the S'COOL Rover Web site and more information, go to:
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