Images from NASA’s Salt-Sensing Satellite

The Aquarius mission will help scientists understand the global water cycle.

Animation from NASA’s Aquarius satellite showing changes in ocean salinity in the last year.

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.

Brett Walton
–Circle of Blue reporter

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