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NASA Designs Radiometer to Improve Climate Models

A NASA team designed a sophisticated microwave radiometer to overcome the pitfalls that have plagued similar Earth-observing instruments in the past.
The new radiometer, which is designed to measure the intensity of electromagnetic radiation, specifically microwaves, is equipped with one of the most sophisticated signal-processing systems ever developed for an Earth science satellite mission. Its developers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., shipped the instrument to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where technicians will integrate it into the agency’s Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft, along with a synthetic aperture radar system developed by JPL.

With the two instruments, the NASA mission will globally map soil moisture levels — data that will benefit climate models — when it begins operations a few months after its launch in late 2014. In particular, the data will give scientists the ability to discern global soil moisture levels, a crucial gauge for drought monitoring and prediction, and fill gaps in scientists’ understanding of the water cycle. Also important, it could help crack an unsolved climate mystery: the location of the places in the Earth system that store carbon dioxide.

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Also: Learn about an RF Reference Switch for Spaceflight Radiometer Calibration.