New Earth Science Data Collected

January 4, 2000 | Mike Key

By this spring, UW-Madison will obtain a stream of earth science data that rivals any ever collected before. On November 27, a heavy-duty helicopter lifted pieces of an antenna platform and tower, the first step in receiving earth science data from NASA’s Terra satellite. Later this winter, probably in March, the helicopter returns to put in place the antenna itself with its large translucent protective dome.

With the December 17 launch of Terra, the first polar-orbiting satellite in NASA’s Earth Observing System, scientists will be able to study the earth in unprecedented detail. One particular Terra instrument is dear to the hearts of scientists at UW-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center. Researchers here have helped develop the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and software that makes its data useful by testing the MODIS Airborne Simulator in many field studies. NASA’s high-altitude research plane, the ER-2, even came to Madison twice in the 1990s to test the MODIS simulator (MAS) and other instruments planned for satellites.

The MODIS is the key instrument on the Terra satellite. It monitors cloud cover and cloud top properties in many different channels, or wavelengths, that look at light in very different ways. By combining channels or viewing them separately, researchers can see many different properties of clouds that can be examined for trends in regional and even global weather.

“The MODIS data, along with data from other sensors on Terra, will expand our view of the earth-atmosphere system by providing new and diverse global science products for a long-term record,” said SSEC researcher Christopher Moeller. “New information on cloud prevalence, atmospheric water vapor and aerosol distribution, land and ocean surface characteristics, and biological activity will be available on a global basis so that the evolution and interaction of these global facets can be evaluated. This monitoring will lead to an improved understanding of the earth as a system, rather than as a series of seemingly isolated events. Ultimately, we will predict global climate and its effect on our global system much more precisely and accurately than heretofore possible.”

In the long run, people all over the United States and the world will benefit from the wealth of information Terra and MODIS will collect.

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