The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, or AIRS, instrument is a key tool for climate studies on greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide distribution, as well as weather forecasts. When it launched in 2002 along with five other instruments aboard NASA's Aqua satellite, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder became the most advanced atmospheric sounding system ever deployed in space.

The instrument is designed to collect climate data and turn it into 3-D maps of air and surface temperature, water vapor and cloud properties, helping improve researchers' understanding of severe weather patterns and how they relate to global climate change.

AIRS observes 2,378 wavelengths of heat radiation in the air below the satellite.

Mission Events

October 2008: A NASA/university team publishes the first global satellite maps of the key greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in Earth's mid-troposphere, an area about 8 kilometers, or 5 miles, above Earth.

December 2009: The AIRS science team releases the most accurate and complete global carbon dioxide data set to date, based on seven-plus years of measurements from AIRS.

2013: Researchers used AIRS' data record to find 18 global hot spots for atmospheric gravity waves.

May 4, 2017: 15th anniversary of launch.

Key Discoveries

October 2008: A research team lead by AIRS Science Team Leader Moustafa Chahine finds the distribution of carbon dioxide in Earth's mid-troposphere is strongly influenced by major surface sources of carbon dioxide and by large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns, such as the jet streams and weather systems in Earth's mid-latitudes. Patterns of carbon dioxide distribution were also found to differ significantly between the northern hemisphere, with its many land masses, and the southern hemisphere, which is largely covered by ocean.

December 2008: A NASA study using data from AIRS found that the frequency of extremely high clouds in Earth's tropics -- the type associated with severe storms and rainfall -- is increasing as a result of global warming

November 2012: Relative humidity data from AIRS is used in a NASA study analyzing hurricane patterns to improve hurricane strength forecasts. In a separate study led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory using data from AIRS along with a handful of other NASA satellites, scientists were able to estimate how much the growth of plants worldwide is limited by the amount of nutrients available in their soil.

Scientific Instrument(s)

- Cooled array grating spectromer
- Cross-track rotary scan mirror
- Four-color imaging photometer
- Multi-aperture spectrometer