Earth Matters

Skygazing for Science

July 1st, 2022 by Sara Pratt

Participants taking cloud observations. Image credit: The GLOBE Program

Clouds are an important part of the climate system. They affect how much sunlight reaches the ground and how much heat returns to space, which in turn affects Earth’s temperature and rainfall patterns. Scientists are working to better understand the role that clouds play in the global climate system, but that requires significant amounts of data.

“No single cloud observation method or system … is able to provide a complete and accurate depiction of cloud properties across the Earth under the many conditions that naturally occur,” said Bill Smith, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC). Cloud observations are gathered by active and passive satellites, ground-based sensors, and, by humans.

The citizen scientists of the GLOBE Program have been playing a vital role in data collection by observing clouds around the globe, especially at times that “match” a satellite flyover. When that happens, the observations from the citizen scientists on the ground are matched with satellite observations that were made near the same time and place. By combining the ground-up view of GLOBE citizen scientists with the top-down view of satellites, scientists get a more complete view of the atmosphere.

Now, the NASA GLOBE Clouds team is hoping to hit a significant milestone: one million matches by the time of the GLOBE annual meeting in late July 2022.


Image credit: The GLOBE Program

When a GLOBE cloud observation is taken within 15 minutes of a satellite observation, both points of view are coupled, creating a match. Some satellites are geostationary satellites, such as GOES, Himawari, and Meteosat. Others are polar-orbiting satellites, such as Aqua, Terra, and CALIPSO. The satellite-matched data provides an augmented dataset for research. When a match is made, the NASA GLOBE Clouds team sends a personalized email to participants with the matching satellite data. Approximately 4,000 emails are sent to participants each month.


Classifying clouds using the GLOBE Observer application. Image credit: The GLOBE Program

Participants who want to help GLOBE meet their million-match goal this July can photograph clouds, then upload the photographs and classify the clouds using the GLOBE Observer app. Visit the GLOBE Observer website to learn more about the Match to a Million campaign and how you can help NASA learn more about Earth’s atmosphere.

Read more about the value of combining ground and space measurements in the GLOBE blog Counting to a Million Matches and learn more about matching to satellites on the GLOBE Clouds Science page. You can also follow GLOBE on social media and share what you’re doing to help GLOBE match to a million by using the hashtag #GLOBE1M .

The NASA-funded Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program was launched on Earth Day in 1995. Over the past 27 years, millions of students in more than 120 countries have collected and entered more than 200 million environmental measurements into the GLOBE database. Those observations include surface temperatures, rainfall amounts, tree heights, land cover, mosquito habitats, and a variety of other environmental observations, including cloud type and coverage.

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