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Tropical Cloud Systems and CERES
This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science. However, more recent observations and studies may have rendered some content obsolete.
NASA’s latest Earth Observing System satellite“Aqua”is dedicated to
advancing our understanding of Earth’s water cycle. Launched on May 4,
2002, Aqua has successfully completed its checkout period and is fully
operational. Using multiple instruments, Aqua data and images are
crucial toward improving our knowledge of global climate change.
The Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument
is one of six on board the Aqua satellite. CERES detects the amount of
outgoing heat and reflected sunlight leaving the planet. A detailed
understanding of how clouds affect the energy balance is essential for
better climate change predictions.
These Aqua images show CERES measurements over the United States and
the Gulf of Mexico from October 1, 2002. Visible are Hurricane Lili at
the center of the image and tropical storm Kyle located to the upper
right. Lili developed into a major category 4 hurricane and made land
fall over the coast of Louisiana two days later. Both of these tropical
cloud systems have a tendency to cool the Earth by reflecting a large
amount of sunlight (white and green areas in the left image) back to
space. At the same time, these tropical cloud systems have the
countering tendency to warm the Earth by reducing the amount of outgoing
heat lost to space (blue and white areas in the right image). Without
these tropical cloud systems, the Earth would lose a large amount of
heat to space as seen by the surrounding clear-sky regions (red and
yellow areas in the right image). The key to unlocking the mysteries of
climate and climate changes is understanding the Earth's delicate energy
balance between reflected sunlight and outgoing heat, and how this
balance is affected by the presence of different cloud systems.
Aqua is part of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, a long-term research
effort dedicated to understanding and protecting our home planet.
Through the study of Earth, NASA will help to provide sound science to
policy and economic decision makers so as to better life here, while
developing the technologies needed to explore the universe and search
for life beyond our home planet.