Here's an update on Cloudsat written by one of the principal investigators, Graeme Stephens, for The Denver Post. From the article:Despite the enormous number of images of clouds from space, previously there had been little real information about the properties of clouds. CloudSat is the first radar to look vertically at the characteristics of clouds, particularly their water and ice content. That data will help scientists better predict weather patterns and climate changes.
Those improvements will give us more confidence in predicting droughts and severe storms in the future, including the effects of global warming...
CloudSat - designed at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and built by Boulder's Ball Aerospace - flies in NASA's "A-Train" constellation of satellites, maintaining a separation of about 15 seconds from the CALIPSO spacecraft, which carries a laser system called "lidar" to study clouds and aerosols (dust and pollution). The lidar complements the CloudSat radar, in that each is particularly well-suited for studying a certain class of clouds. Together, they give a complete picture of clouds from the thinnest cirrus high in the atmosphere to the thickest, most heavily precipitating clouds...
Among some of the new discoveries gathered in the first 12 months of CloudSat's operations:
- CloudSat research is leading to a promising new technique for estimating the intensity of hurricanes from space. The method could one day supplement existing techniques, assist in designing future tropical cyclone satellite observing systems and improve disaster preparedness and recovery efforts. Developed by scientists at CSU, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the technique uses NASA satellite data, including data from CloudSat, to remotely estimate hurricane intensity.
- CloudSat has provided the first real information on the fraction of clouds that produce precipitation. Over the Earth's oceans, CloudSat has shown that precipitation is much more common than was previously thought, due to the fact that precipitation over oceans is extremely hard to measure and the light rain that often falls has been completely missed by satellite observations until now. Weather and climate models fail to predict this precipitation, but the CloudSat observations will lead to improvements in the predictions. CloudSat has shown that 15 percent of all oceanic clouds produce rain that falls to the surface.
- Weather and climate-prediction models predict that the majority of rain that falls comes from deep thunderstorms. CloudSat has revealed that this is not the case, and instead the observations show that a large proportion of rain falls from much shallower clouds.
- CloudSat has provided new insights on the greenhouse effects of clouds, identifying where and when clouds trap heat in the atmosphere and where and when they increase the amount of heat lost from the atmosphere to space. This dynamic trade-off between heating and cooling is one of the basic controls on global climate and the new knowledge gives scientists better tools to estimate future climate.
The CloudSat radar also provides observations of clouds over the polar regions during winter. These clouds have been largely invisible to earlier satellite observations because of the lack of sunlight and the difficulty of sensing a difference, from space, between cold clouds and cold ice-covered surfaces. As we are finding out, the polar regions are extremely sensitive to climate warming, and the complex interplay between the polar surface and polar clouds can now be studied for the first time.
More on Mr. Stephens from The Denver Post.
More coverage here or here. More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.
Category: 2008 Presidential Election