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New satellite mission to study the impact of clouds on climate

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  • EarthCARE will provide detailed data on clouds and aerosols, improving climate models and weather forecasting.
  • The mission involves international collaboration, highlighting the global effort to tackle climate change.
  • Advanced instruments on EarthCARE will offer new insights into the role of clouds and aerosols in Earth's climate system.

The European Space Agency (ESA), in collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has launched a groundbreaking satellite mission named EarthCARE (Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer). This mission aims to delve into the intricate role that clouds and aerosols play in Earth's climate system. By examining how these elements reflect solar radiation and trap infrared radiation, EarthCARE is set to provide critical data that will enhance climate models and weather forecasting.

Clouds and aerosols are pivotal in regulating Earth's climate. Clouds can both cool and warm the planet depending on their type and altitude. Low, thick clouds generally reflect sunlight, leading to a cooling effect, while high, thin clouds trap heat, contributing to warming. Aerosols, tiny particles suspended in the atmosphere, also play a significant role by influencing cloud formation and properties.

According to NASA, about two-thirds of Earth is covered by clouds at any given moment, making their study essential for understanding climate dynamics. The EarthCARE mission will provide detailed vertical profiles of aerosols and clouds, offering insights into their distribution and movement.

Advanced Instruments on EarthCARE

EarthCARE is equipped with four state-of-the-art instruments designed to provide comprehensive data on clouds and aerosols:

Atmospheric Lidar (ATLID): Developed by Airbus, this instrument will provide vertical profiles of aerosols and thin clouds, enhancing our understanding of their role in the climate system.

Broad-Band Radiometer: This instrument will measure the amount of solar radiation reflected by clouds and aerosols, as well as the infrared radiation they trap.

Multi-Spectral Imager: Developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, this imager will capture detailed images of clouds and aerosols in multiple wavelengths.

Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR): Developed by JAXA, this radar will provide detailed profiles of cloud structures, helping to understand their impact on climate.

Enhancing Climate Models and Weather Forecasting

One of the primary goals of the EarthCARE mission is to improve the accuracy of climate models. Current models often struggle to simulate cloud processes accurately, leading to uncertainties in climate predictions. By providing detailed data on cloud and aerosol interactions, EarthCARE will help refine these models, making them more reliable.

Dr. Paulo Ceppi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, emphasizes the importance of understanding cloud feedback mechanisms. "Clouds are a big uncertainty," he says. "We want to understand how clouds will change and how this cloud feedback will affect global warming" .

International Collaboration and Future Prospects

The EarthCARE mission is a testament to international cooperation, involving more than 200 research institutes and 45 companies across Europe, Japan, and Canada. This collaboration underscores the global effort to tackle climate change through advanced scientific research.

As EarthCARE orbits the planet in a Sun-synchronous 400 km polar orbit, it will provide continuous data for at least three years. This data will be invaluable for improving climate predictions and developing strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The EarthCARE mission represents a significant leap forward in our understanding of how clouds and aerosols affect Earth's climate. By providing detailed, high-resolution data, this mission will enhance climate models, improve weather forecasting, and contribute to global efforts to address climate change.

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