Although originally designed to measure atmospheric water vapor and temperature for weather forecasting, scientists working with the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on the NASA Aqua Spacecraft are now using AIRS to observe atmospheric carbon dioxide. Scientists from NASA, NOAA, ECMWF, UMBC, Princeton and CalTech using several different methods are measuring the concentration of carbon dioxide in the mid-troposphere (about 8 km above the surface). The global map of carbon dioxide above, produced by AIRS Team Leader Dr. Moustafa Chahine at JPL, shows that despite the high degree of mixing that occurs with carbon dioxide, the regional distribution can still be seen by the time the gases reach the mid troposphere. Climate modelers are currently using the AIRS data to understand the global distribution and transport of carbon dioxide and improve their models.
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.