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Know Your Earth 3.0: Aqua
Aqua banner with Claire Parkinson

About Claire Parkinson

Claire Parkinson is the project scientist for the Earth-observing satellite Aqua, which is collecting data about Earth's atmosphere, oceans, land, ice and vegetation. Parkinson has been Aqua's project scientist since 1993. She is the primary link between the Aqua scientists and other major players in the Aqua mission, including NASA Headquarters, the managers overseeing the construction of the spacecraft, and the mission operators controlling the spacecraft and its data flow. She is also the lead person writing the biannual proposal to NASA headquarters to keep the mission funded.

Parkinson has been a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., since 1978. Her research is focused on sea ice and climate change using satellite data analysis. Her research also involves computer modeling, fieldwork in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, and work with polar bear and penguin experts. She and her colleagues have used the satellite data to reveal critical polar sea ice changes that show how our planet is changing. The data reveal how Arctic sea ice coverage has decreased significantly since the late 1970s while Antarctic sea ice coverage has increased over the same period, showing that the Arctic is losing sea ice faster than the Antarctic is gaining it.

Parkinson has written books on satellite Earth observations, climate change and the history of science. She has also co-written and co-edited books on sea ice, climate modeling, satellite data and the careers of women at Goddard. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, and Phi Beta Kappa and has served on the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is also a Fellow of the AAAS and the American Meteorological Society. She is the first female recipient of the Goldthwait Polar Medal from the Byrd Polar Research Center and has received NASA Exceptional Service and Outstanding Leadership medals. She obtained a B.A. degree from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

Tracking polar sea ice changes from Aqua's  AMSR-E instrument from June and July 2002
Tracking polar sea ice changes from Aqua's Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer – Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) instrument from June and July 2002.
Credit: NASA
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About Aqua

Aqua is a major NASA Earth-observing satellite collecting data about Earth's atmosphere, oceans, ice, land and vegetation. Since 'Aqua' is Latin for water, the satellite is named for the large amount of information it is obtaining about Earth's water and its water cycle. The data include information on ocean surface water and evaporation as well as water vapor in the atmosphere, clouds, precipitation, soil, sea ice, land ice and snow cover. Additional variables also being measured by Aqua include radiative energy fluxes, aerosols, land vegetation cover, phytoplankton and dissolved organic matter in the oceans, and air, land and water temperatures.

Aqua image of a 2009 snowstorm blanketing the U.S. Mid-Atlantic States
An Aqua image of a 2009 snowstorm blanketing the U.S. Mid-Atlantic states.
Credit: NASA
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Aqua was launched on May 4, 2002, and has since been orbiting Earth once every 98.8 minutes at an altitude of 438.1 miles (705 kilometers). Its Earth-observing instruments come from the United States, Japan and Brazil, and each was designed to complement the others. For example, some can measure clouds while others can see through clouds and measure the surface conditions below. Thousands of scientists worldwide have used the Aqua data and have included it in hundreds of scientific publications. Beyond the scientific value, the Aqua data are also being used for a wide range of practical applications, including weather forecasting and air quality analyses. Highlights include firefighters using the data to determine the expanse of forest fires, airline pilots using them to identify the location of airborne volcanic ash and ship captains in the polar regions, using them to monitor sea ice coverage.

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› Aqua Mission Overview
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