Four images of the Mediterranean obtained concurrently on June 14, 2002 from the three instruments that make up the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder experiment system aboard NASA's Aqua spacecraft. The system features thousands of individual channels that observe Earth in the visible, infrared and microwave spectral regions. Each channel has a unique sensitivity to temperature, moisture, surface conditions and clouds. This visible light image from the AIRS instrument shows a band of white clouds extending from the Adriatic Sea over Greece to the Black Sea. The AIRS image (figure 1) at 900 cm-1 (11 micrometers) measures actual surface or cloud top temperatures. In it, land and ocean boundaries are well defined, with land appearing as warmer (darker red) than the ocean. The band of cold high cumulus clouds appears blue, with the darkest blue most likely a large thunderstorm. The 150 gigahertz channel from the Humidity Sounder for Brazil instrument (figure 2) is sensitive to moisture, ice particles and precipitation. The dry land temperature is comparable to the 11 micrometer temperatures, but over ocean this channel measures the temperature of moisture in the mid troposphere. The cold, blue areas off Sicily and in the Aegean Sea represent unusually dry areas over the ocean. There, clouds appear as green filaments--likely areas of precipitation. The 31.4 gigahertz channel from the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit instrument (figure 3) is not affected by clouds. NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) onboard NASA's Aqua spacecraft, began sending high quality data on June 12, 2002. This "first light" data is exceeding the expectations of scientists, confirming that the AIRS experiment is well on its way to meeting its goals of improving weather forecasting, establishing the connection between severe weather and climate change, determining if the global water cycle is accelerating, and detecting the effects of increased greenhouse gases. The AIRS sounding suite is a tightly integrated remote sensing system that will be used to create global three-dimensional maps of temperature, humidity and clouds in the Earth's atmosphere with unprecedented accuracy. This will lead to better weather forecasts as well as a wealth of data that will be used to study and characterize and eventually predict the global climate. The AIRS system is made up of three of the six Aqua instruments - AIRS itself, which is an infrared sounder with an unprecedented 2378 spectral channels, complemented with a 4-channel visible/near-infrared imaging module; AMSU-A, which is a 15-channel microwave temperature sounder; and HSB, which is a 4-channel microwave humidity sounder. These instruments are carefully aligned with each other and scan the atmosphere in a synchronized way, giving us simultaneous multispectral views of a highly variable target. The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder is an instrument onboard NASA's Aqua satellite under the space agency's Earth Observing System. The sounding system is making highly accurate measurements of air temperature, humidity, clouds and surface temperature. Data will be used to better understand weather and climate. It will also be used by the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve the accuracy of their weather and climate models. The instrument was designed and built by Lockheed Infrared Imaging Systems (recently acquired by British Aerospace) under contract with JPL. The Aqua satellite mission is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.


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