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AIRS Storm Front Approaching California Animation
NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument is able to peel back cloud cover to reveal 3-D structure of a storm's water vapor content, information that can be used to improve weather forecast models.
In this animation the initial visible cloud image series shows a front moving toward the West Coast of the United States as a low pressure area moves into the Pacific Northwest. The "Pineapple Express," a stream of moisture that originates in the tropics South of Hawaii and usually crosses Mexico to enter New Mexico and Texas, has shifted Westward and is also visible moving into Baja California. The area preceding the front appears to be relatively clear in the visible images.
As the view shifts from the visible to the infrared wavelengths which highlight water vapor, we see both cloud areas contain heavy burdens of moisture. The area which appears clear in the visible images is seen to contain water vapor near the coastline as well. The viewpoint then rotates so that we can see the vertical cross section of the fronts. The variability of the vertical extent of water vapor and the amount is now clearly visible. The storm moving in from the Gulf of Alaska is more heavily laden with water vapor than that moving in from the Southwest. The moisture is concentrated in the lower atmosphere. The colors indicate the amount of water vapor present. Blue areas denote low water vapor content; green areas are medium water vapor content; red areas signify high water vapor content. The vertical grid for the final frame ranges from 250 millibar pressure at the top to 1000 millibar pressure at the bottom. The top is about 10 km (6.2 miles) above the surface of the Earth.
The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit, AMSU, senses emitted infrared and microwave radiation from Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at Earth's weather and climate. Working in tandem, the two instruments make simultaneous observations all the way down to Earth's surface, even in the presence of heavy clouds. With more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the atmosphere, the system creates a global, three-dimensional map of atmospheric temperature and humidity, cloud amounts and heights, greenhouse gas concentrations, and many other atmospheric phenomena. Launched into Earth orbit in 2002, the AIRS and AMSU instruments fly onboard NASA's Aqua spacecraft and are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., under contract to NASA. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
More information about AIRS can be found at http://airs.jpl.nasa.gov.