NASA’s PACE mission will uncover new information about health of our oceans

Off the coast of Argentina, two strong ocean currents recently stirred up a colorful brew of floating nutrients and microscopic plant life just in time for the summer solstice, Dec. 21, 2010. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of a massive phytoplankton bloom off of the Atlantic coast of Patagonia. Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory/Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Web
Off the coast of Argentina, two strong ocean currents recently stirred up a colorful brew of floating nutrients and microscopic plant life just in time for the summer solstice, Dec. 21, 2010. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of a massive phytoplankton bloom off of the Atlantic coast of Patagonia. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory/Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Web

July 21, 2016 – NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission is a first-of-its-kind project that aims to answer key questions about the consequences of climate change on the health of our oceans and their relationship with airborne particles and clouds. PACE will use a wide spectrum of wavelengths from an “ocean color” instrument to provide scientists with this information.

“PACE represents a major effort to truly combine ocean research with atmospheric research,” Project Scientist Jeremy Werdell said. “We are going to go beyond just seeing that Earth’s climate is changing to better understanding why the change is occurring.”

PACE was approved to move forward out of its preliminary stage of planning on June 16 at the Key Decision Point A (KDP-A) event. A significant milestone for this next stage is that the official mission budget becomes available for use on July 1, Project Manager Andre Dress said.

The primary instrument for this mission is named the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI), which will collect hyperspectral measurements from the ultraviolet to the shortwave infrared—a range that is broader than its predecessor satellite instruments, SeaWiFS, MODIS, and VIIRS—to examine and monitor how phytoplankton communities in the ocean are changing in space and time. The OCI will provide precise measurements of the ocean surface to allow researchers to see the concentrations of different phytoplankton communities all over the globe. The spectral range and resolution of the OCI design will substantially advance the ability to distinguish between different species of phytoplankton compared to predecessor satellite instruments.

Phytoplankton play an essential role in ocean ecosystems. They are the base of the marine food chain and, like land plants, produce much of the oxygen we breathe and play a role in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. With growing concern about the impact of rising global temperatures on our oceans, PACE data will be used to unveil new information about changing patterns in phytoplankton composition and the emergence of potentially harmful algal blooms. Satellites that currently exist are adept at detecting algal blooms, but cannot unequivocally determine their composition – for example, if they are harmful to fish or can contaminate drinking water. The spectral range of OCI will help scientists figure out more about where blooms occur and how they are changing.

The possible addition of a polarimeter, an instrument that could provide multi-angle polarized radiometric measurements to advance studies of aerosol particles and clouds, is currently under consideration by the PACE team. A polarimeter would allow improved measurement of atmospheric particle compositions that will ultimately improve observations of ocean color. Normally, roughly ninety percent of what an ocean color satellite instrument measures when over the oceans is the atmosphere, which has to be subtracted out to reveal the ocean signal.

Ongoing field campaigns and the collection of data at sea provide critical information that helps scientists and engineers plan and design this new mission. For example, the North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study (NAAMES) campaign, which had its most recent deployment during May 2016, collected a wealth of information from both a ship and an airplane to validate satellite measurements and give a three-dimensional perspective that includes what’s happening beneath the surface. “NAAMES is helping us answer fundamental questions we have about processes in the ocean,” said PACE Communications Coordinator and scientist Stephanie Uz. “The measurements they and other field campaigns collect at sea contribute to PACE being a giant leap forward in ocean and atmosphere research.”

All preliminary planning for PACE is currently being done at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The unique information that this mission will provide, in combination with climate models, will allow for scientists to monitor the health of our oceans and their response to climate change like never before.

“We are putting all this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and causing oceans to be more acidic at the same time that the oceans are warming and coming under stress from a range of human activities,” Uz said. “All of this is affecting the ocean in ways we don’t fully understand…PACE will help us comprehend what we have now and how it is changing.”

Explore further: A global view of oceanic phytoplankton

Provided by: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-07-nasa-pace-mission-uncover-health.html#jCp

Robotics Teams Prepare to Compete for $1.5 Million in NASA Challenge

The team Survey robot is seen as it conducts a demonstration of the level two challenge during the 2014 NASA Centennial Challenges Sample Return Robot Challenge, Thursday, June 12, 2014, at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass. Eighteen teams are competing for a $1.5 million NASA prize purse. Teams will be required to demonstrate autonomous robots that can locate and collect samples from a wide and varied terrain, operating without human control. The objective of this NASA-WPI Centennial Challenge is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotics technologies. Innovations stemming from the challenge may improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The team Survey robot is seen as it conducts a demonstration of the level two challenge during the 2014 NASA Centennial Challenges Sample Return Robot Challenge, Thursday, June 12, 2014, at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass. Eighteen teams are competing for a $1.5 million NASA prize purse. Teams will be required to demonstrate autonomous robots that can locate and collect samples from a wide and varied terrain, operating without human control. The objective of this NASA-WPI Centennial Challenge is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotics technologies. Innovations stemming from the challenge may improve NASA’s capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation’s robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

June 5, 2015 – Twenty robotics teams, ranging from university students to small businesses, are preparing to compete June 8-13 in the fourth running of the NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge for a prize purse of $1.5 million.

At the autonomous robot competition held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, teams must demonstrate their robot can locate and collect geologic samples from a large and varied landscape, without human control, through two levels of competition that grow in complexity. The objective is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotic manipulation technologies. These innovations may enhance NASA’s space exploration capabilities and could have applications on Earth, continuing the nation’s leadership in robotic technology.

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The space station is a national asset that actively improves lives on our home planet. In fact, a portion of the space station has been designated a U.S. National Laboratory dedicated to wide-ranging scientific research.

NASA Invests in Future of Aviation with Supersonic Research ProjectsJune 5, 2015 – Quieter, greener supersonic travel is the focus of eight studies selected by NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project to receive more than $2.3 million in funding for research that may help overcome the remaining barriers to commercial supersonic flight.
The research, which will be conducted by universities and industry, will address sonic booms and high-altitude emissions from supersonic jets. Continue reading “The space station is a national asset that actively improves lives on our home planet. In fact, a portion of the space station has been designated a U.S. National Laboratory dedicated to wide-ranging scientific research.”

NASA, Commercial Industry Creating Historic Economic Opportunities

NASA, Commercial Industry Creating Historic Economic OpportunitiesJune 5, 2015 – Never in the history of spaceflight has potential for economic growth been so widespread or space so accessible to American industry, researchers, innovators and explorers.

Today, American companies are sending hundreds of experiments to orbit that improve products and benefit our lives on Earth. Students are monitoring satellites of their own design while scientists are studying Earth right now, in real-time, from orbit. NASA astronauts are advancing the knowledge we need to send humans on our Journey to Mars. It’s a reality made possible by the International Space Station and the U.S. commercial space industry, opening the high frontier of space. Continue reading “NASA, Commercial Industry Creating Historic Economic Opportunities”

NASA Announces Education Research Program Award Recipients

NASA Announces Education Research Program Award RecipientsJune 5, 2015 – NASA is awarding a total of approximately $11.25 million to universities in 15 states to conduct basic research and technology development in areas critical to the agency’s mission.

NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program is awarding up to $750,000 to colleges and universities for research and development in areas, such as remote sensing, nanotechnology, astrophysics and aeronautics, all of which are applicable to NASA’s work in Earth science, aeronautics, and human and robotic deep space exploration.

The award covers a three-year period. Results from the research will be provided to NASA for possible inclusion in its programs.

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