PASADENA, Calif. NASA's new Aquarius instrument has produced its first global map of the salinity of the ocean surface, providing an early glimpse of the mission's anticipated discoveries.
Aquarius, which is aboard the Aquarius/SAC-D (Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas) observatory, is making NASA's first space observations of ocean surface salinity variations a key component of Earth's climate. Salinity changes are linked to the cycling of freshwater around the planet and influence ocean circulation.
"Aquarius' salinity data are showing much higher quality than we expected to see this early in the mission," said Aquarius Principal Investigator Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research in Seattle. "Aquarius soon will allow scientists to explore the connections between global rainfall, ocean currents and climate variations."
The new map, which shows a tapestry of salinity patterns, demonstrates Aquarius' ability to detect large-scale salinity distribution features clearly and with sharp contrast. The map is a composite of the data since Aquarius became operational on Aug. 25. The mission was launched June 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Aquarius/SAC-D is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE).
"Aquarius/SAC-D already is advancing our understanding of ocean surface salinity and Earth's water cycle," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division at agency headquarters in Washington. "Aquarius is making continuous, consistent, global measurements of ocean salinity, including measurements from places we have never sampled before."
To produce the map, Aquarius scientists compared the early data with ocean surface salinity reference data. Although the early data contain some uncertainties, and months of additional calibration and validation work remain, scientists are impressed by the data's quality.
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