The Aquarius mission will help scientists understand the global water cycle.
A year ago, NASA and Argentina’s national space agency collaborated on a mission to measure salt concentrations in the world’s oceans. Since the fall, the Aquarius satellite has been transmitting data that will give scientists a better understanding of climate patterns, ocean circulation and rainfall.
The principal investigator for the mission is Gary Lagerloef, of Seattle-based Earth and Space Research, which specializes in oceanographic research. In the weeks before the satellite launched, Lagerloef told me that scientists lacked comprehensive data on ocean salinity.
“There are direct connections between what happens over the ocean and what happens on land,” he said. “The ocean is a vast, but poorly understood, part of the water cycle.”
Using the Aquarius data, NASA has put together an animation showing how salt concentrations have fluctuated in the last year.
The Atlantic Ocean is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, where salinity is moderated by frequent rainfall. Along the coasts, rivers provide slugs of freshwater, though Lagerloef tells NASA’s Earth Observatory that land masses interfere somewhat with the instruments and distort the data. In time, the research team will be able to refine those processes.
Follow the mission at NASA’s Aquarius website, and take a peak at the satellite’s components.
–Circle of Blue reporter
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton