CALIPSO: A Global Perspective of Clouds and Aerosols from Space


From reports of increasing temperatures, thinning mountain glaciers and rising sea level, scientists know that Earth's climate is changing. But the processes behind these changes are not as clear. Two of the biggest uncertainties in understanding and predicting climate change are the effects of clouds and aerosols (airborne particles). The Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satellite mission, currently under development, will help scientists answer significant questions about climatic processes by providing new information on these important atmospheric components.


The CALIPSO satellite. (Image courtesy of Jim Cato, NASA LaRC).

Scientists use computer programs called climate models to understand the behavior of and make predictions about climate. Climate models are mathematical representations of natural processes. While they are invaluable tools, more scientific studies are necessary to gain a greater confidence in their predictions. Clouds and aerosols are important variables in these models. Researchers need to learn more about how they help cool and warm the Earth, how they interact with each other and how human activities will change them and their effect on the climate in the future.

The CALIPSO satellite will give scientists a highly advanced research tool to study the Earth's atmosphere and will provide the international science community with a data set that is essential for a better understanding of the Earths climate. With more confidence in climate model predictions, international and national leaders will be able to make more informed policy decisions about global climate change.

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton ,Va., leads and manages CALIPSO for the NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) program and collaborates with the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, Hampton University and the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in France. CALIPSO, scheduled for launch in 2005, is designed to operate for three years.

next: The importance of clouds and aerosols to climate change


by Julia Cole
July 26, 2002



The importance of clouds and climate change
A curtain of the atmosphere
The future of CALIPSO

Related Data

Cloud Forcing
Aerosol Index