Terrestrial Tour: Fluid Earth

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Special Thanks:  Steve Graham and Claire Parkinson (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) and Edward Olsen (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Produced by: Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach
All images and animations courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
  • Aqua spacecraft illustration: Reto Stöckli, NASA Earth Observatory team
  • Earth’s Western Henisphere “Blue Marble” image: Reto Stöckli/Robert Simmon/NASA/MODIS/USGS/DMSP
  • Aqua’s orbit animation: Jesse Allen/NASA
  • Earth globe image featuring North America: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio; Blue Marble data courtesy of Reto Stöckli (NASA/GSFC)
  • Factory with smoke stack photo: Ian Britton/Freephoto.com
  • Earth globe featuring North and Central Americas image: NASA image courtesy GOES Project Science Office
  • Caribou with mountains in background photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Smokestacks at sunset photo: Ian Britton/Freephoto.com
  • Field of rapeseed photo: Ian Britton/Freephoto.com
  • Global carbon dioxide animation: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Anvil cloud photo: Vanessa Thomas
  • Photo of anvil clouds from space: NASA/STS-111
  • Clouds at sunrise photo: Vanessa Thomas
  • Global images of cloud reflectance and heat transmission: CERES Science Team, NASA Langley Research Center
  • Hurricane Alex image: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
  • Cold wakes animation: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
  • Maps of ship and buoy sea surface temperature measurements: National Climatic Data Center
  • Aqua map of sea surface temperatures on August 1, 2006: Jesse Allen/NASA, based on data from Remote Sensing Systems
  • Global sea surface temperature animation: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio: data provided by Norman Kuring (NASA/GSFC)
  • Mount Spurr volcanic plume photo: Game McGimsey/Alaska Volcano Observatory/U.S. Geological Survey
Produced by: Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach
All images and animations courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
  • Mount Saint Helens caldera and plume photo: Austin Post/USGS
  • Aqua images of ash plumes from Mount Etna and Klyuchevskaya Volcano: NASA images by Jeff Schmalz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Mount Redoubt eruption plume: R. Clucas/Alaska Volcano Observatory/ U.S. Geological Survey
  • Dust over the Canary Islands image: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
  • Aqua images of dust over the Persian Gulf and Iraq: Jeff Schmalz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Iraq dust storm photo; Togai Andrews
  • Aerial and ground-based fire photos: Andrea Booher/FEMA
  • Aqua images of smoke and fire locations in northern California and Boliva: NASA images courtesy of the MODIS Rapid Response Team
  • Aqua image of smoke and fire locations in Russia: Jesse Allen/Earth Observatory/NASA
  • Turbulent clouds photo: NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library: OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)
  • Lightning in Romania photo: Mircea Madau
  • Lakeview tornado photo: NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)
  • Hurricane Katrina image: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
  • Iceberg weather station photo: Peter West/National Science Foundation
  • ER-2 research aircraft photo: Jim Ross/NASA
  • Map of global precipitable water: AIRS Science Team/NASA/JPL
  • Illustration of Aqua spacecraft from below: Reto Stöckli, NASA Earth Observatory
  • Maps of global mean temperatures and precipitable water vapor: Stephanie Granger, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Lightning in Kansas photo: Jimmy Dequara, www.australiaservereweather.com
  • Global temperatures animation: AIRS Scienct Team/NASA/JPL
  • Clouds over snowy mountain landscape photo: Vanessa Thomas
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music
Written by Vanessa Thomas
Designed by John Godfrey

Title, Fluid Earth, Investigating Our Changing World with the Aqua Satellite.
The blue planet Earth floats in black space. North America and the northern part of South America are visible with patches of clouds covering the water and landmasses. Text, Our planet is constantly changing. From above, smoke and flames from a forest fire. Text, Every day, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, severe weather, and other dramatic natural events inflict immediate and short-term changes upon the land, atmosphere, and oceans
Floating icebergs reflect the blue water. Text, Longer-term changes such as variations in global temperatures, sea ice coverage, and the contents of the atmosphere develop over years, decades, centuries, and millennia. A world map shows varying patches of yellow, orange, red, and blue over land and water. Text, Differences from average global temperatures. Red is hotter than normal. Blue is colder than normal.
The map starts at 1885 and cycles through the years to show the changes in temperature across the planet. 1885 starts with most of the map covered in blue patches. As the years, click by, the map is covered by more and more orange and red patches. By 2013, most of the planet is covered with orange and red. Very little blue is left.
A fleet of scientific satellites has given us new perspectives on many of these changes. An animated graphic shows the flight path of the satellites around the Earth. Text, Since 2002, one NASA satellite, in particular, has played a big part in advancing our understanding, Aqua. A yellow and blue computer-generated image of Aqua floats in space. Text, Named after the Latin word for water, Aqua is devoted to studying Earth's water.
From space, planet Earth's oceans covered with wispy clouds. Text, Because water is everywhere on our planet, this focus gives Aqua the ability to study Earth's oceans, air, land, and ice.
Launched on May 4, 2002, Aqua is in a near-polar orbit, completing one orbit every 99 minutes. Animation, a red line runs around the planet passing over both poles to show Aqua's orbit as the planet rotates. Text, During half its orbit, Aqua passes over the daytime side of Earth.
The global orbit becomes a flat map of the world with the red lines of Aqua's orbit moving south to north and north to south. Text, Aqua passes over the nighttime side of Earth during the other half of its orbit.
Aqua floats above the planet Earth. Text, It takes Aqua just two days to scan the entire globe.
From space, a view of North America. Text, Aqua's versatility and coverage allow it to track many different agents of change.
A list of topics with a factory billowing smoke in the background. Topic 1, Carbon dioxide, striking a balance
Planet Earth in dark space. Text, Carbon dioxide plays a key role in making our planet habitable. It is a greenhouse gas that helps trap heat in the atmosphere, keeping Earth warm.
Image, Caribou graze on the tundra with snow-covered mountains in the background. Text, But too much change in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can have a disagreeable effect on our planet's climate.
Image, a silhouetted factory billowing smoke with an orange sky at sunset. Text, Keeping the level just right requires a balance between the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and the amount absorbed by plants, oceans, and other such sinks. Image, a field of yellow flowers. Text, Knowing what and where the carbon dioxide sources and sinks are helps us understand how that balance is maintained.
A world map is covered with strips of yellow, orange, red, green, and blue to show the concentration of carbon dioxide. Blue is a low amount and red is a high amount. Text, Aqua has produced the first global maps of carbon dioxide about five miles above the ground, in a part of the atmosphere called the mid-troposphere. Ground-based detectors can measure the total amount of carbon dioxide above a certain point but cannot reveal how high it is.
Animation, a rotating planet Earth is covered in large patches of yellow and orange. Text, Carbon dioxide in the mid-troposphere is more likely to have traveled there from somewhere else. By measuring it, we can figure out how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe.
Topic 2, Clouds, Regulating sunlight.
From above, thick and thin layers of clouds spread across the sky. Text, Like carbon dioxide, clouds play an important part in moderating our planet's temperature. Looking up, sunlight filters through clouds. Text, Clouds reflect solar radiation, which helps to cool our planet. But clouds can also trap heat that would otherwise escape into space, which makes the climate warmer.
Side by side images of Earth. The one on the left is blue. The one on the right is mostly red and orange with a few patches of blue. Text, These Aqua images show the effects of clouds over the United States and the Gulf of Mexico on October 1, 2002. Hurricane Lili appears at the center of each image. A focus on the blue image. Text, In this image, white and green show where clouds are reflecting sunlight. There are small areas of green and white. A focus on the redder image. Text, In this image, red, orange, and yellow show where heat is escaping, while blue and white show where heat is trapped by clouds. Most of the image is covered in red and orange with small patches of blue and white.
Understanding how clouds reflect and trap heat is vital to understanding their role in our planet's climate.
From space, wispy clouds float over blue water. Text, Also important is knowing how much of our planet is covered in clouds.
Until recently, scientists estimated that clouds covered about half, or 50 percent, of our planet at any given time.
From space, the top half of planet Earth showing North and South America. Text, But Aqua has helped to show that, on average, clouds cover about 67% of Earth. This suggests clouds have a greater role in Earth's climate than previously thought.
Topic 3, Hurricanes, Feeding off the oceans. From space, the eye of a hurricane and a mass of clouds is near land. Caption, Hurricane Alex.
Text, Hurricanes feed off of heat in the oceans. Image, a topographic map shows a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico within a large orange and red area. Key, Sea Surface Temperature, Blue is cold and Red is Warm. Text, If the ocean's surface is warm enough, a hurricane can grow stronger. If the waters are cool, a hurricane will often weaken.
A satellite map of North America with large areas of orange and red over the water. Text, Hurricanes themselves can change sea surface temperatures by churning up colder water from below and leaving wakes of cold water.
Animation, speeded up formation of hurricanes emerging from the Atlantic ocean and approaching North America. A broad stripof orange and red runs around the middle of the planet. Two arrows labeled Cold Wake 1 and Cold Wake 2 point to each other in the ocean off the East Coast of North America. Text, Until the Sun reheats the water, these cold wakes can weaken any future hurricanes that pass over them.
Another topographic map shows Hurricane Bonnie hitting the East Coast of North America. An arrow labeled Cold Wake points to a blue-colored strip in the ocean south of the Hurricane. Text, Knowing the temperature at the ocean's surface and the location of these cold wakes helps forecasters predict how strong a hurricane will become.
Side by side maps of the world. On the left, blue lines indicate Ship locations, June 2006. On the right, red dots indicate Buoy locations, June 2006. Text, Water temperature measurements can be gathered from boats and buoys, but the coverage is limited. These maps show the locations of measurements from ships and buoys over one month.
A world map shows the temperature of the oceans. Most of the water is blue, but there are strips of orange and red in the middle near landmasses. Text, Aqua can measure sea surface temperatures around the globe in a single day. And unlike some satellites, Aqua can measure sea surface temperatures even when clouds cover the water. Animation, a rotating earth. As the planet rotates, the color of the water fluctuates from reds and oranges to greens and blues.
Topo Map of the path of Hurricane Dennis. A cold wake is circled off the west coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. Text, Hurricane prediction centers use Aqua observations to monitor sea surface temperatures and track the appearance and disappearance of cold wakes. Aqua's assistance helps improve the accuracy of hurricane predictions.
Topic 4, Volcanoes, Spewing danger into the skies. Smoke and ash billow from the crater of an active volcano. Text, Volcanic eruptions pose a danger to people on land and in the air.
For aircraft, volcanic ash plumes can reduce visibility, cause damage to the aircraft, and even cause engine failure.
From a jet, gray smoke and ash from a volcano rise up through clouds. Text, In December 1989, a commercial airliner lost power in all four of its engines after encountering a plume from Alaska's Redoubt Volcano. Without power, the airplane descended from 28,000 to 14,000 feet, just 4,000 feet above nearby mountain peaks. The plane landed safely in Anchorage and no one was hurt, but the aircraft suffered more than $80 million in damage.
Satellite view, black smoke spews from an island volcano surrounded by ocean. Caption, Mt. Etna, Sicily. Text, Aqua can detect and image these volcanic plumes.
Another satellite image of a volcanic plume of smoke and ash. Caption, Klyuchievskaya Volcano, Russia. Text, This information helps analysts at volcanic ash advisory centers determine the boundaries of an ash cloud and estimate its altitude and movement.
Image, the large mushroom clouds of smoke and ash from a spewing volcano. Text, The advisory centers can then alert pilots to the locations of potentially dangerous volcanic ash clouds, helping to avoid catastrophes in the air.
Topic 5, Dust Storms, A natural foe. A satellite image of a large dust cloud moving over the water. Caption, Western Africa and Canary Islands. Text, Like plumes of volcanic ash, dust storms whip up trouble by reducing visibility and choking airways.
Caption, Persian Gulf. A satellite image shows a dust storm moving over the Persian Gulf from Iran. Text, In the arid Middle East, dust storms affect day-to-day life, civilian flights, and military operations.
Inset image, caption, Dust storm in Iraq. A large wall of dust billows over a city.
Satellite image, a dust storm is highlighted moving south over a large portion of Iraq.
Text, Aqua images like this one are used to monitor dust storms in Iraq and surrounding areas.
Topic 6, Wildfires, Taming the untamed.
Image, trees in a forest are engulfed by flames. Text, Wildfires are one force of nature we humans have some control over. Firefighters are silhouetted against burning brush close by at night. Text, When a fire threatens lives, property, and natural resources, firefighters rush to the scene to battle or simply try to manage the fire.
Satellite image, smoke covers a large area of land in Northern California. Text, Aqua observations can assist that effort by determining the exact location and extent of a fire. Caption location of fires is outlined in red. Dozens of fires are outlined on the satellite image over a vast area.
Caption, Bolivia. Another satellite image shows smoke and the red outlines of hundreds of wildfires. Text, This space-based perspective is especially critical for assessing fires in rugged areas where traversing the landscape is difficult, or when heavy smoke prevents observers in planes from seeing the fire below.
Another satellite image shows dozens of fires grouped in Russia. Streams of smoke flow in the same direction. Text, Information from Aqua helps fire-monitoring agencies keep track of fires without sending reconnaissance teams to every one.
It also helps firefighters identify which fires pose the greatest threat and deserve the most attention.
Topic 7, Weather, Predicting the future. Image, lightning strikes burst through blue clouds. Text, One natural phenomenon that affects everyone everywhere is weather.
Storm clouds and a tornado sweep along a flat landscape. Text, Weather forecasts not only help us plan our day-to-day lives, but they can save lives by warning of severe weather.
A satellite image of a hurricane between Cuba and the southwest tip of Florida. Caption, Hurricane Katrina. Text, Today, forecasters depend on satellites to observe weather patterns and developing storms.
But to predict the weather, it's also necessary to assess the state of many subtle variables such as humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, and the temperatures of the ground, sea surface, and atmosphere.
A weather station sits in snow on a barren landscape. A small jet flies low over land. Text, Such measurements can be made from ground stations, airplanes, or weather balloons.
But satellites like Aqua can cover much wider areas and reach more remote locations. World map, legend, precipitable water vapor in the atmosphere. Tan is low, green is in the middle, and blue is high. A blue strip wraps around the middle of the map.
The Aqua satellite flies through space. Text, The constant and comprehensive stream of information from Aqua and other satellites has helped improve the accuracy of weather forecasts around the world. Images, examples of satellite maps for water vapor and air temperature,
Animation, A wide strip of orange ripples across the middle of the map with smaller strips of yellow, green, blue, and purple on either side. Aqua flies above planet Earth. Text, This is just a sampling of what NASA's Aqua mission can do. Aqua is revealing how our planet changes from day to day.
From space, Earth floats in blackness with North America visible. Text, And since its launch in 2002, Aqua is helping to provide insights into long-term changes as well.
Continued studies using Aqua and other Earth-observing satellites will help us better answer the questions.
How is our planet changing?
How does human activity influence these changes?
Special thanks to Steve Graham and Claire Parkinson, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Edward Olsen, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach. Images and animations courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio except: Aqua spacecraft illustration: Reto Stockli, NASA Earth Observatory team, Earth's Western Hemisphere "Blue Marble" image: Reto Stockli/Robert Simmon/NASA/MODIS/USGS/DMSP, Fire and smoke photo: Andrea Booher/FEMA, Beaufort sea ice photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Global temperature deviation animation: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio; data provided by Robert B. Schmunk (NASA/G S F C G I S S), Aqua's orbit animation: Jesse Allen/NASA
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music. Written by Vanessa Thomas. Designed by John Godfrey. For more information about Aqua, please visit aqua dot nasa dot gov. The Space Telescope Science Institute is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. for NASA, under contract with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.