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NASA Aquarius satellite maps ocean salinity

By Dave Armstrong - 25 Sep 2011 3:10:0 GMT
NASA Aquarius satellite maps ocean salinity

You might have it poured on your meal, it could be concentrated in your bloodstream. But your salt IQ. can now be calculated on the Aquarius website. Aquarius is the suspiciously 60-ish name of NASA's latest earthly project. Without water, we know planets cannot be very comfortable. But with salt our ancestral forms crawled up onto the Earth and now it's inside us in large quantities.

So relevant to all life forms and our climate, the sea's salt has now been estimated by NASA's  Aquarius/SAC-D satellite observatory. After two and a half weeks, since only August 25th, the preliminary data have been exemplary, providing us with an early view of large-scale ocean patterns. Later, Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research in Seattle says, "Aquarius will allow scientists to explore the connections between global rainfall, ocean currents and climate variations". "Aquarius' salinity data are showing much higher quality than we expected to see this early in the mission". He will be hoping that many problems will be shown up and even solved as the data increases.

The ocean surface salinity shown is much more variable than expected. Obviously this new method of measurement provides data that was unavailable by means of older techniques. (In a few months, it can gather the equivalent of the 125 years of data we have from shipping samples). One amazing find was the very large input of freshwater (low salinity) from the Amazon.

In other cases, the well-known influence of the great Indian rivers on the Bay of Bengal is easily contrasted with the salty Arabian Sea to the west. Everyone is positive about the results, including Arnold Gordon, professor of oceanography at Columbia University, N.Y. "This is a great moment in the history of oceanography". "The first image raises many questions that oceanographers will be challenged to explain".

The map above (top), is for you to work out your own favourite saline spots! Aquarius will soon of course be able to produce large-scale maps, as data is continually gathered. Also, seasonal rainfalls are bound to be factors in those monsoon areas, with the contrasts seen for the first time.

The mission was launched June 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE). Being fully functional, it can be now expected to carry on bleeping about the oceans for at least three years, repeating its global pattern every seven days. It flies 657 kilometers (408 miles) above the Earth's surface.

NASA's Aquarius instrument consists of three passive microwave radiometers to detect the surface emission that is used to obtain salinity and an active scatterometer to measure the ocean waves that affect the precision of the salinity measurement. While salinity levels in the open ocean generally range from 32 to 37 practical salinity units, or psu (roughly equivalent to parts per thousand), the Aquarius sensor will be able to detect changes in salinity as small as 0.2 psu. This is equivalent to about a "pinch" (i.e., 1/8 of a teaspoon) of salt in one gallon of water.

Top Image Credit: NASA

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Topics: Oceans