NASA funds more atmospheric research by far than any other government agency or private concern internationally. More than 100 different instruments have been developed and flown in support of NASA airborne science missions during more than three decades of investigation, most of which were designed, built, and are maintained by various NASA field centers, by universities, or by other government agencies such as NOAA.
The airborne science program within the Earth Science Division performs in-situ atmospheric measurements at varying altitudes and horizontal resolutions, and tests new sensor technologies for satellite application. The emphasis is on data acquisition for climate science: carbon cycling, atmospheric pollution, atmospheric dynamics, and exploring the genesis of large convective storms — in particular, how hurricanes develop from disturbances that originate on the west coast of Africa.
Most missions are driven by objectives specified in the National Research Council Decadal Survey for Earth Science. The NRC conducts studies to obtain a scientific community consensus on key questions posed by NASA and other government agencies. NASA and its partners ask the NRC once each decade to look forward ten or more years and prioritize research areas, observations, and national missions to make those observations. In turn, NASA Earth Science immediately implemented several sharply targeted investigations the most recent NRC Decadal Survey identified as quick-turnaround projects lasting five years or less.
One quick-turnaround project, the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experi ment (ATTREX), is improving understanding of the processes that control the flow of atmospheric gases in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere by studying chemical and physical processes at different times of the year. Another such project is the Carbon Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experi ment, which is investigating Arctic carbon cycling.
The ability to network arrays of different instruments within and among aircraft for simultaneous data acquisition, in coordination with satellite sensors, advances a suite of new atmospheric investigations by NASA Earth Science.