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Cloud studies

These images show OMI measurements of polar mesospheric clouds over six consecutive orbits of the Aura polar-orbiting satellite. The clouds, detectable because they are the only things that reflect light at this high altitude in the atmosphere (80-85 km), are shown in purple.These images show OMI measurements of polar mesospheric clouds over six
consecutive orbits of the Aura polar-orbiting satellite. The clouds, detectable
because they are the only things that reflect light at this high altitude in the
atmosphere (80-85 km), are shown in purple. Credit: NASA GSFC
Through NASA research grants, SSAI scientists have been working with data from satellite instruments to create long-term data sets for trend studies. They have been monitoring polar mesospheric clouds with instruments that were actually designed to study ozone, including the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite. The trend indicates that the atmosphere has been responding to increased greenhouse gases over the past 30 years. The noctilucent clouds are too faint to be seen by day, but are illuminated at night as small ice particles scatter shorter wavelengths of light. The clouds can be detected through lidars or satellites that measure solar absorption or scattering.

Polar mesospheric clouds are getting brighter, and increasing greenhouse gases may be responsible for the change. Whether carbon dioxide could be causing cooling or increased methane may be adding water vapor to the atmosphere, further study can explore both phenomena and drive additional research. SSAI scientists will continue this work with OMPS instruments on the Suomi NPP satellite.