AIRS: NASA Advances Our Understanding of Earth’s Climate
The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite has been scanning Earth for 20 years and now has a long enough record to help support climate change research. AIRS data on Earth’s atmosphere are improving weather forecasts and advancing our understanding of Earth’s climate.
João Teixeira: Every person in the world is affected by AIRS. It's the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder; a revolutionary instrument that is able to look at the infrared, the thermal radiation that is emitted by the Earth and by the atmosphere. AIRS is the first instrument to actually be able to do something like this.
Sharon Vasquez-Ray: It was designed to provide data to help improve weather forecasting and help us understand what's going on with climate.
João Teixeira: Because it lasted so long, it allows us to have a record of climate change that is completely unique. So it shifted from being a revolutionary weather mission to being a revolutionary climate mission.
Sharon Vasquez-Ray: Climate is all about understanding trends. The longer the data set is, the better you'll be able to understand what's going on.
Thomas Pagano: Now we have a 20 year data record. That data set in itself will be looked at for the next hundred years or so or longer. It will give people a glimpse into this real critical time period in our history.
Eric Fetzer: The Arctic's gone from being what it was 30 or 40 years ago to what it is today, which is a lot warmer, a lot less cloudy, a lot more water vapor, (which AIRS observes) a lot less ice.
Vivienne Payne: There's also this wealth of information in the AIRS spectra about many different trace gases: carbon monoxide, ozone, ammonia, carbon dioxide, also methane. One thing we can see in the AIRS data over time is large fire events throughout the world. Air pollution is a global problem. We can see those plumes moving across the world.
Sharon Vasquez-Ray: Air data are used in the development of the U.S. drought monitor.
João Teixeira: We do produce results from AIRS to understand how flu is spreading. When the atmosphere is drier, there appears to be a tendency for people to get the flu.
Eric Fetzer: All those have enormous economic consequences and social consequences. And this is why it matters.
Sharon Vasquez-Ray: AIRS is about decision making. It's about using the data that we get from these spaceborne instruments and applying them to critical challenges we have on Earth right now.
João Teixeira: The data that we have collected from AIRS is vastly unexplored. Future generations will be able to extract much more important information and get a lot more insight into the climate system by looking at AIRS data. The best is yet to come.