Smile, Planet, You’re on NPP

Almost two months ago a new environmental-observing satellite, NPP, hitched a ride on the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket into earth’s orbit and data is already coming back to earth.

The NPP carries five instruments set to collect daily data on atmospheric and sea-surface temperatures, humidity soundings, land and ocean biological productivity, and cloud and aerosol properties, along with Earth radiation budget data.

Credit: Ball Aerospace, 2011.
These data are highly useful in understanding environmental patterns, as well as long-term climate change patterns and will allow us to keep a record of trends in a changing climate.

NASA scientists attest that the NPP collects critical climate data to help us unravel some of the mysteries of climate change.

NPP can also see and collect data on other environmental factors such as fires, vegetation, ice patterns, oil spills and sees deeper into storms such as hurricanes.

What’s also unique about the satellite is that it can see all the way to the ground or ocean, regardless of cloud cover, measuring air and surface temperatures through a “straw” of accuracy.

“A significant amount of data that comes up through a 1.1-degree soda straw from the ground,” said Stephen Opel, civil space program manager at Northrop Grumman.

Here is a graphic image of  NPP:

Courtesy of NASA
Data received by NPP has a host of users – by the scientific community to the conservation community.

First image from NPP. Courtesy of NASA, 2011.
Vegetation data can help us understand and predict wildlife patterns of movement, for example, and will help in designating areas prime for conservation. Arctic ice data will help us more fully understand the extent and availability of habitat for wildlife such as polar bears.

Weather information will help provide advance warnings for severe weather such as the deadly tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves, floods, snowfall and wildfires that the National Weather Service reports have killed 852 Americans, injured more than 6,500, and led to a record $12 billion weather disasters in the USA in 2011.

Over the longer-term, climate data will provide more information to make decisions on how we mitigate (reduce greenhouse gases) and adapt (prepare for impacts) to climate change. It will help cover some data gaps that can sometimes hinder us from taking action.

NASA anticipates all of the products on board will be fully operational within the next year. Follow updates on the NPP’s twitter feed.