Hurricanes, air quality and Arctic ecosystems are among the research areas to be investigated during the next five years by new NASA airborne science missions announced recently.
The five competitively-selected proposals, including one from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are the first investigations in the new Venture-class series of low-to-moderate-cost projects established last year.
The Earth Venture missions are part of NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program. The small, targeted science investigations complement NASA's larger research missions. In 2007, the National Research Council recommended that NASA undertake these types of regularly solicited, quick-turnaround projects.
This year's selections are all airborne investigations. Future Venture proposals may include small, dedicated spacecraft and instruments flown on other spacecraft.
"I'm thrilled to be able to welcome these new principal investigators into NASA's Earth Venture series," said Edward Weiler, associate administrator of the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "These missions are considered a 'tier 1' priority in the National Research Council's Earth Science decadal survey. With this selection, NASA moves ahead into this exciting type of scientific endeavor."
The missions will be funded during the next five years at a total cost of not more than $30 million each. The cost includes initial development and deployment through analysis of data. Approximately $10 million was provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act toward the maximum $150 million funding ceiling for the missions.
Six NASA centers, 22 educational institutions, nine U.S. or international government agencies and three industrial partners are involved in these missions. The five missions were selected from 35 proposals.
The selected missions are:
1. Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment. Principal Investigator Charles Miller, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The release and absorption of carbon from Arctic ecosystems and its response to climate change are not well known because of a lack of detailed measurements. This investigation will collect an integrated set of data that will provide unprecedented experimental insights into Arctic carbon cycling, especially the release of important greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Instruments will be flown on a Twin Otter aircraft to produce the first simultaneous measurements of surface characteristics that control carbon emissions and key atmospheric gases.
2. Airborne Microwave Observatory of Subcanopy and Subsurface. Principal Investigator Mahta Moghaddam, University of Michigan
North American ecosystems are critical components of the global exchange of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and other gases within the atmosphere. To better understand the size of this exchange on a continental scale, this investigation addresses the uncertainties in existing estimates by measuring soil moisture in the root zone of representative regions of major North American ecosystems. Investigators will use NASA's Gulfstream-III aircraft to fly synthetic aperture radar that can penetrate vegetation and soil to depths of several feet.
3. Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment. Principal Investigator Eric Jensen, NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
Water vapor in the stratosphere has a large impact on Earth's climate, the ozone layer and how much solar energy Earth retains. To improve our understanding of the processes that control the flow of atmospheric gases into this region, investigators will launch four airborne campaigns with NASA's Global Hawk remotely piloted aerial systems. The flights will study chemical and physical processes at different times of year from bases in California, Guam, Hawaii and Australia.
4. Deriving Information on Surface Conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality. Principal Investigator James Crawford, NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
Satellites can measure air quality factors like aerosols and ozone-producing gases in an entire column of atmosphere below the spacecraft, but distinguishing the concentrations at the level where people live is a challenge. This investigation will provide integrated data of airborne, surface and satellite observations, taken at the same time, to study air quality as it evolves throughout the day. NASA's B-200 and P-3B research aircraft will fly together to sample a column of the atmosphere over instrumented ground stations.
5. Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel. Principal Investigator Scott Braun, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The prediction of the intensity of hurricanes is not as reliable as predictions of the location of hurricane landfall, in large part because of our poor understanding of the processes involved in intensity change. This investigation focuses on studying hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean basin using two NASA Global Hawks flying high above the storms for up to 30 hours. The Hawks will deploy from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during the 2012 to 2014 Atlantic hurricane seasons.
"These new investigations, in concert with NASA's Earth-observing satellite capabilities, will provide unique new data sets that identify and characterize important phenomena, detect changes in the Earth system and lead to improvements in computer modeling of the Earth system," said Jack Kaye, associate director for research of NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate.
Langley manages the Earth System Pathfinder program for the Science Mission Directorate. The missions in this program provide an innovative approach to address Earth science research with periodic windows of opportunity to accommodate new scientific priorities.
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