Tropical Cloud Systems and CERES

Tropical Cloud Systems and CERES

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.

Image courtesy of the CERES Science Team, NASA Langley Research Center.