Ocean Satellite Searches for Salt
A satellite was launched into orbit Friday morning on a mission to observe and record salt levels on ocean surfaces worldwide. The satellite’s observations will be used by scientists to observe oceanic behavior and hypothesize a relationship between changes in salinity and future climate change.
A Delta 2 rocket carrying the Argentine-built satellite, known as Aquarius, lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, the only military installation in the US from which unmanned government and commercial satellites are launched into polar orbit.
Aquarius was developed to map the entire open ocean every seven days from its position 408 miles (657 kilometers) above Earth, producing monthly estimates that show how and where salt levels change over time. The $400 million mission is a down payment on what scientists hope will be a big payout – help with predicting short-term climate phenomena, like El Nino and La Nina, as well as long-term climate change.
Other, previous methods for measuring salinity included lowering instruments from ships or using robotic floats. Measuring salinity from space is a more recent technological development.
“In the Earth science division of NASA, we have 13 missions in orbit right now and about half of them measure ocean quantities – we get sea-surface temperature, ocean winds, sea level, ocean color, and the changing mass of the oceans,” said Eric Lindstrom, Aquarius scientist, NASA. “A key missing piece that’s really in demand by the ocean science community is ocean salinity.”
The mission is a collaborative effort between NASA and Argentina’s space agency CONAE. Other countries participating in the project include Brazil, Canada, France and Italy.