Tiny Satellite Creates First Global Map Of Ice Clouds

Posted: May 19 2018, 3:38pm CDT | by , Updated: May 19 2018, 3:42pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Tiny Satellite Creates First Global Map of Ice Clouds
Credits: NASA Goddard/ Jennifer Brill

The data cloud help improve our understanding of ice clouds and their effect on Earth's climate

A small experimental satellite has created a detailed map of ice clouds spreading across the Earth. The satellite, called IceCube, has been operational since May 2017 and is capable of measuring important properties of ice clouds. While other satellites can see through many clouds and estimate the liquid inside them, they cannot detect small, frozen crystals in ice clouds. In other words, conventional satellites cannot distinguish puffy white cloud from ice clouds that cause most of the heavy rain.

A rain cloud forms when water vapor rises higher in the atmosphere and reaches an altitude where temperature and air pressure become suitable for the vapor to condense into ice. These ice crystals continue to grow as they absorb moisture. Eventually, they get so heavy that they begin to fall and melt in the form of rain drops.

Using submillimeter-wave technology, researchers have mapped the global distribution of ice clouds in the atmosphere. The map is first of its kind and provides access to areas where ice clouds are often too opaque for infrared and visible sensors to penetrate. The tiniest particles inside the ice clouds can't be detected clearly in other microwave wavelengths.

“This is a three-month average of ice clouds. The brightest peak areas represent the largest concentration of ice clouds. They are also the spots with heavy precipitation beneath. They reach up to the top of the troposphere from deep convection, which is normally strongest in the tropics.” NASA statement said.

Ice clouds are key variables in weather and Earth’s climate. Studying these clouds and their role in climate change could further improve our models and forecasts. IceCube has measured ice clouds and collected sufficient amount of data during its almost a year long stay around low-Earth orbit. The mission was originally designed for only three months.

"It does not cost very much to keep it going," said Tom Johnson, Goddard's Small Satellite manager stationed at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia."so we extended the mission due to the outstanding science that IceCube is performing. We download data eight to 10 times a week. Even if we miss a week, the CubeSat can hold a couple of weeks of data."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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