It's Always Earth Science Week at NASA Goddard
There is something new in the Earth sciences happening every day at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, located in the Maryland countryside near Washington, D.C. At its main location in Greenbelt, Md., and at a scientific institute in New York City and a rocket launch site in Virginia, scientists, engineers and technicians work to keep an eye on the entire planet.
Image above: From the ozone hole over the South Pole to the health of forests around the world to air pollution from cities and wildfires, Goddard scientists and engineers see it all. Global views of our planet are received at Goddard every day and distributed to users around the world.
Monitoring the health of the Earth is a big job that requires a lot of different skills. Goddard engineers design and build new tools for seeing Earth from space. Spacecraft mission operators fly globe-circling spacecraft around the clock. Earth scientists unravel the secrets of how our planet works. From the ozone hole over the South Pole to the health of forests around the world and air pollution from cities and wildfires, Goddard scientists and engineers see it all.
For many of NASA's Earth-watching spacecraft, Goddard is mission control where workers make sure the satellites are in good shape and working properly as they orbit the globe. These satellites include the three big "great observatories" – Terra, Aqua and Aura – as well as the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) which can see inside hurricanes. At the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Atlantic coast, Goddard also runs America's oldest continuous rocket range.
Image to left: Many of NASA's fleet of Earth-observing spacecraft are operated from Goddard, including the three multi-instrument "great observatories" – Terra, Aqua and Aura.
Engineers at Goddard use the latest technology to build new instruments that let scientists see the world in many new ways. For example, a laser instrument developed at Goddard is right now flying over the North and South Poles on the ICESat satellite to make detailed maps of the ice sheets there.
Every single day these satellites and instruments send down to computers on Earth millions of megabytes of new information. To manage all of this information and get it to the people that use it, software engineers at Goddard created the largest scientific data system on the planet: the Earth Observing System Data and Information System. Scientists, local governments, teachers and the general public use the online system to get information from more than 30 satellites. One customized system made at Goddard keeps an eye out for forest fires for the U.S. Forest Service.
Image to right: Goddard research meteorologist J. Marshall Shepherd keeps an eye on how hurricanes rise and fall with the aid of images from the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) satellite.
Goddard experts also help their colleagues in other parts of the U.S. government who watch the weather every day and keep track of major storms and hurricanes. NASA's TRMM satellite uses radar to look right inside a hurricane and measure how heavy the rain is falling. This is an important clue that tells weather forecasters if the storm is going to get stronger or weaker.
But the really big payoff of all this work at Goddard is the new knowledge gained about how our world works. Every year Goddard scientists make important new discoveries. Recent findings include the surprising result that warmer temperatures around the globe may melt more sea ice around the North Pole but create new sea ice around the South Pole. Using a computer simulation, other Goddard scientists found that the "Great Dust Bowl" in the United States in the 1930s was caused by changes in the temperature of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Understanding how the world's climate is changing, now and in the future, keeps scientists and computer modelers busy at the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences in New York City.
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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center