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Watching Earth's winds, on a shoestring
Date:10/30/2013

Built with spare parts and without a moment to spare, the International Space Station (ISS)-RapidScat isn't your average NASA Earth science mission.

Short for Rapid Scatterometer, ISS-RapidScat will monitor ocean winds from the vantage point of the space station. It will join a handful of other satellite scatterometer missions that make essential measurements used to support weather and marine forecasting, including the tracking of storms and hurricanes. It will also help improve our understanding of how interactions between Earth's ocean and atmosphere influence our climate.

Scientists study ocean winds for a variety of reasons. Winds over the ocean are an important part of weather systems, and in severe storms such as hurricanes they can inflict major damage. Ocean storms drive coastal surges, which are a significant hazard for populations. At the same time, by driving warm surface ocean water away from the coast, ocean winds cause nutrient-rich deep water to well up, providing a major source of food for coastal fisheries. Changes in ocean wind also help us monitor large-scale changes in Earth's climate, such as El Nio.

Scatterometers work by safely bouncing low-energy microwaves - the same kind used at high energy to warm up food in your kitchen - off the surface of Earth. In this case, the surface is not land, but the ocean. By measuring the strength and direction of the microwave echo, ISS-RapidScat will be able to determine how fast, and in what direction, ocean winds are blowing.

"Microwave energy emitted by a radar instrument is reflected back to the radar more strongly when the surface it illuminates is rougher," explains Ernesto Rodrguez, principal investigator for ISS-RapidScat at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "When wind blows over water, it causes waves to develop along the direction of wind. The stronger the wind, the larger the waves."

ISS-RapidScat continues a legacy of measuring o
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Contact: Alan Buis
Alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov
818-354-0474
NASA/Johnson Space Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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