From drizzle to blizzard, NASA amps up its water watch

Visualization of the GPM Core Observatory satellite orbiting the planet earth (Courtesy: Britt Griswold)

NASA is launching a satellite system into space that will help improve how we forecast extreme weather events.

The space agency says the Global Precipitation Measurement, or GPM, Core Observatory is the most advanced suite of instruments ever put in space to study precipitation.  It’s a constellation of nine different spacecraft that will deliver a global picture of what’s falling from the skies every three hours.

“This is important to anybody, from farmers planting their crops to people responding to very strong storms, emergencies,” said NASA scientist Michelle Thaller.  “There’s a lot to learn about the water system of our atmosphere.”

The mission will investigate the world’s water cycle, collecting X-ray and CAT-scan-like images of rain clouds, hurricanes, blizzards and more.  The goal is to fill in many gaps where there are no ground based radar readings or rain gauges.

“If you put all the rain gauges on the planet together and pushed them all into the same area, they would fill up about the space of two basketball courts,” said NASA scientists Michelle Thaller. “So that should tell you, right there, that there’s a huge amount to learn. There are areas of the world where we’ve never had an accurate measurement before.”

Knowing how much rain or snow is falling and where is important for understanding how much fresh water is available around the world and improving forecasting models of extreme weather events that cause hurricanes, floods and droughts.  GPM will also help scientists better understand how a warming planet is changing the way water cycles around our planet.

This is a joint mission with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.  The GPM launches from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan at 1:07 p.m. EST.

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