What impact do clouds have on Earth's climate? This is one of the most pressing scientific questions of our time. One way NASA is working to answer that question, among others, is by launching the latest in a long line of successful spaceflight instruments, CERES FM6. The instrument measures reflected sunlight and thermal radiation emitted by the Earth.
CERES FM6, or Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System Flight Model 6, is a three-channel radiometer that measures both solar-reflected and Earth-emitted radiation from the top of the atmosphere to the Earth's surface. CERES measures radiances in three broadband channels: a shortwave channel, a longwave channel, and a total channel.
There are currently six CERES instruments on satellites orbiting Earth and taking data. CERES is a key component of the Earth Observing System (EOS), Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (S-NPP) observatory, and NOAA-20 observatories. The first CERES instrument flew on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) in 1997. The instruments were launched on EOS Terra in 1999, Aqua in 2002, Soumi NPP in 2011 and most recently on NOAA-20 in 2017.
CERES helps provide measurements of the spatial and temporal distribution of Earth's Radiation Budget (ERB) components. This further develops understanding of the links between the ERB and the proprieties of atmosphere and surface that define it.
Earth's climate system tries to balance radiant energy from the Sun that reaches the Earth with the energy that is emitted from Earth back to space. Measurements from CERES help scientists understand the links between the Earth's incoming and outgoing energy and the properties of the atmosphere that affect that energy.
The observations from CERES FM6 help measure the effect of clouds on the energy balance, which strongly influences both weather and climate. CERES allows scientists to validate models that calculate the effect of clouds in driving planetary heating or cooling. CERES' global observations provide data for improving seasonal climate forecasts, including cloud and radiative aspects of large-scale climate events like El Niño and La Niña.
CERES also determines cloud properties including the amount, height, thickness, particle size and phase of clouds using simultaneous measurements by other Earth Observing System (EOS) , and Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) instruments such as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometric Suite (VIIRS). Analyses using CERES data, build upon the foundation laid by previous missions such as NASA Langley's Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE), leading to a better understanding of the role of clouds and the energy cycle in global climate change. These measurements are critical for understanding cloud-radiation climate change and improving the prediction of global warming using climate models.
CERES data can also be used for assessing the radiative effects and climatic impact of natural disasters like volcanic eruptions, major floods and droughts. The long-term data will provide a basis for scientific understanding of cloud and climate feedback that determines climate variations and trends.
The CERES instruments were built by TRW in Redondo Beach, California (now Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems) and managed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The international CERES science team includes scientists from NASA, NOAA, U.S. universities, France, and Belgium. The team blends expertise and guides the definition of the CERES instrument and science studies.
NASA Official: Dr. Norman Loeb
Page Curator: Edward Kizer
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