NASA Announces 5 New Earth Venture Missions

Earth Venture program
ive new NASA field research campaigns investigating a number of phenomena across the United States get underway this year. Credits: NASA

Investigating and then understanding fundamental processes that impact humanity and the environment are crucial aspects of research for NASA and the scientific community. The data and information collected from these missions, plus the unique vantage point of space allows NASA to understand a more complete picture of how the Earth is changing. These Earth Venture missions are sponsored intensive field campaigns that target critical issues that can benefit from a deeper look by taking advantage of NASA’s capabilities in airborne science.

For 2020, NASA chose 5 new Earth Venture missions as part of the third Earth Venture program, which will cover and study a wide variety of processes crucial to better understanding the changing environment in the US. These 5 missions will have scientists investigate phenomena from January to October covering East Coast snow storms, West Coast ocean eddies, clouds over the Western Atlantic, and more. To perform their work, participating scientists will be utilizing various platforms in a multitude of environments to complete their multi-year studies.

Examples of how these campaigns will utilize various platforms include utilizing “high-altitude aircraft to observe chemistry in the stratosphere to study the impact of intense storms that breach the troposphere, where most weather occurs. A flotilla of autonomous gliders and floats will take to the Pacific Ocean to measure temperature and salinity at and below the water’s surface to better understand the exchange of heat between ocean and atmosphere. Researchers will descend on wetlands by foot and boat to study how sea level rise is affecting delta ecosystems.”[1]  

Intense Snowfall Events

There is an estimated more 50 million people the US East Coast that are affected by winter snowstorms, which often manifests itself by road and business closures. Current models that are meant to forecast these storms are often inaccurately reproduced by forecast models and can be difficult to gather data upon using space tools, which results in poor snowfall prediction.

To solve this problem, NASA is investing in a new Earth Venture called the Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Snowstorms, or IMPACTS, airborne study of these snowstorms. Starting in January, the IMPACTS program will be the first major field campaign to study East Coast snowstorms in 30 years. To gather the data, scientists will be flying aircraft into the snow clouds and gather cloud samples, which will help close the gap between interpreted satellite data and the resulting weather forecasting models.

“People see pictures of these big swaths of clouds and think they’re snowing everywhere, but they’re not,” said IMPACTS principal investigator Lynn McMurdie at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Inside the clouds are these long narrow regions of more intense snow bands. We’re trying to understand why they form and how they evolve with the developing storm. If we can understand the processes in the clouds, we can better predict how they distribute snowfall to us on the ground.”

Ocean-Atmosphere Heating

Eddies are circular currents of water, which help facilitate the exchange of heat between the ocean and the atmosphere and the vertical transport of nutrients, oxygen, and dissolved gases in the upper ocean. The size of these eddies vary as this size difference makes some too small for current ocean-monitoring satellites to observe in detail.

Using several aircraft outfitted with scientific instruments and an oceanic research vessel with an array of autonomous platforms, the Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment, or S-MODE, will venture 200 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The goal of the experiment will be to measure temperature, salinity, and ocean velocity across various time and spatial scales. The experiments are expected to start in April with the goal of better helping scientists “simulate the climate system on long timescales as this data will better help scientists understand how these processes are represented in models and how to improve their representation” per Thomas Farrar.

This is crucial as current observational abilities are current being surpassed by computer simulations.

River Deltas and Sea Level Rise

River deltas and coastal deltas have been the source of nutrient rich soil, numerous fish populations, and easy transportation for human civilizations for many years. Over the course of human history, civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians would build their culture and agriculture around these deltas. This is culturally important because the Mississippi River Delta is a crucial economic and environmental driver for the US. As these deltas start sinking and disappearing because of sea level rises, the benefits provided by the delta, which makes this an important study for NASA and other space agencies.

With the funding of the Delta-X mission, NASA is engaging in the study the Mississippi River Delta to better understand what the future delta will look like. There is hope that the delta will be able to survive a world of climate change if plants are able to grow in new sediment deposits; however, there is no way to tell if this is likely to happen. To help determine and study the future of the Mississippi River Delta, the Delta-X scientists will use airborne remote sensing instruments aboard NASA’s King Air and Gulfstream aircraft. These flights will have the goal of quantifying organic soil deposits is being created by plan decomposition in the hopes of better being able to predict what will happen going forward.

As the projects principal investigator Marc Simard said, “these new data will help us to understand and mitigate the impact of sea level rise on the very important coastal resources found in deltas.”[1] With this information, they scientists can better determine how costal deltas around the world will be able to handle climate change going forward.

Aerosols Changing Clouds

Focusing measure a broad range of aerosol, cloud and meteorological conditions, The Aerosol Cloud Meteorology Interactions Over the Western Atlantic Experiment, or ACTIVATE, will look at the critical role marine boundary layer clouds play in Earth’s energy balance and water cycle. This type of cloud covers large stretches of the planet’s oceans. How cloud systems change continues to be one of the biggest remaining uncertainties in models that look at global warming. To gather this data, researchers will fly in a coordinated fashion while outfitted with a host of remote sensing and in-situ instruments. Although most might be most familiar with the affect that aerosols have on the Ozone Layer, the interaction between aerosols and climate is the next big challenge. After capturing this data, scientists will be able to use it to better model climate change using the gathered data to predict how the future Earth and climate will act and behave.

“Despite many prior field campaigns, we don’t have comprehensive measurements under a variety of conditions to draw definite conclusions about the effects of these interactions between aerosols, clouds and meteorology on climate,” said Armin Sorooshian, ACTIVATE principal investigator from the University of Arizona.

When Strong Storms Punch into the Stratosphere

In the first scientific mission of its type, scientists are going to be studying how intense storms, which can inject water vapor and other substances into the stratosphere from the troposphere, affect the ozone layer. The question trying to be better learned about is how this injection of water vapor and substance affects the ozone absorption of UV rays from the sun.

Called the Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere, or DCOTSS, scientists plan on gathering this data by using weather satellites, ground-based radar, and NASA’s ER-2 high altitude aircraft. Scientists expect to start work in June of 2020.

“DCOTSS is the first science mission specifically designed to observe material lifted into the stratosphere by intense thunderstorms,” said Ken Bowman, DCOTSS principal investigator from Texas A&M University. “By directly measuring storm outflow with the ER-2 aircraft, we can learn how these storms affect today’s stratosphere, and how their impacts might change as the atmosphere changes in coming decades.”[1]

To follow all the NASA Earth Expeditions, visit:

Note: This was part of a NASA Social Live Broadcast at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.


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Further Reading

IMPACTS Program Homepage-

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