Washington: To investigate the composition of clouds and tiny airborne particles like dust, smoke and other atmospheric aerosols, NASA scientists have developed an instrument called the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS).
The instrument, to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) this month, will explore new technologies that could also be used in future satellite missions, the US space agency said in a statement.
Different types of clouds and aerosols can be found at varying heights in the atmosphere.
Depending on their properties and location, they can have varying radiative effects on Earth’s climate system.
“Clouds are one of the largest uncertainties in predicting climate change. For scientists to create more accurate models of Earth’s current and future climate, they will have to include more accurate representations of clouds,” explained Matt McGill, principal investigator at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
From space, streaks of white clouds can be seen moving across Earth’s surface.
Other tiny solid and liquid particles called aerosols are also being transported around the atmosphere, but these are largely invisible to our eyes.
Aerosols are both natural and man-made and include windblown desert dust, sea salt, smoke from fires, sulfurous particles from volcanic eruptions, and particles from fossil fuel combustion.
CATS will provide data about aerosols at different levels of the atmosphere.
The data are expected to improve scientists' ability to track different cloud and aerosol types throughout the atmosphere.
“These datasets will be used to improve strategic and hazard-warning capabilities of events in near real-time, such as tracking plumes from dust storms, volcanic eruptions and wildfires,” McGill said.
The information could also feed into climate models to help understand the effects of clouds and aerosols on Earth’s energy balance.