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 Experiment, with its visible, infrared, and microwave detectors, provides a three-dimensional look at Earth's weather. Working in tandem, the three instruments can make simultaneous observations all the way down to the 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, 3-D map of atmospheric temperature and humidity and provides information on clouds, greenhouse gases, and many other atmospheric phenomena. The AIRS Infrared Sounder Experiment flies onboard NASA's Aqua spacecraft and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., under contract to NASA. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.