Research Satellites for Atmospheric Sciences, 1978-Present

As the preceding sections demonstrate, the Earth’s atmosphere changes both physically and chemically over a range of scales of time and space. The atmosphere’s chemical make-up affects its physical state, such as its radiative properties. Much like a venetian blind, the gases and particles in the atmosphere selectively absorb and reflect certain wavelengths of solar radiation while allowing others to pass through relatively unhindered. In turn, physical processes in the atmosphere also help determine its chemical make-up. There was growing consensus through the 1970s and 80s among Earth scientists that we need to take a more holistic approach to global climate change studies. Scientists recognized that nature does not compartmentalize climate phenomena into discreet disciplines and therefore we need to examine the variables of change as integral parts of the vast, interconnected web of cause-and-effect that is Earth’s climate system. In short, it is not enough to identify where and when changes occur; we need to understand how and why the mechanisms of change work. Satellite remote sensors offer the only viable means of conducting a comprehensive examination of our planet.

Blue marble image of Earth
This photo-realistic image of the Earth was made using MODIS surface reflectance data collected and composited over the late spring and early summer of 2001. The layer of clouds was collected over two days and then stitched together into a global mosaic. (Image by Reto Stockli)

Further Reading
Gurney R. J., J. L. Foster and C. L. Parkinson (1993) Atlas of Satellite Observations Related to Global Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

King, M. D., Kaufman, Y. J., Tanré, D. and Nakajima, T. (1999) Remote sensing of tropospheric aerosols from space: Past, present, and future. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 80, pp. 2229-2259.

Parkinson, C. L. (1997) Earth From Above: Using Color-Coded Satellite Images to Examine the Global Environment. Sausalito: University Science Books.

Ramanathan, V., Barkstrom, B. R. and Harrison E. F. (1989) Climate and the Earth’s Radiation Budget. Physics Today, vol. 42, pp. 22-32.

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Remote Sensing
Balancing Earth’s Radiant Energy Budget
Dust in the Wind
Abstract Art or Arbiters of Energy?
Serendipity and Stratospheric Ozone
The Chemistry of Earth’s Atmosphere
Where Storm Clouds Gather

Related Articles
Aerosols and Climate Change
Clouds and Radiation
Why isn’t Earth Hot as an Oven?

Related Datasets
TOMS Ozone
Cloud Fraction