News

  • NASA’s S-MODE Takes to the Air and Sea to Study Ocean Eddies

    After being delayed over a year due to the pandemic, a NASA field campaign to study the role of small-scale whirlpools and ocean currents in climate change is taking flight and taking to the seas in May 2021.

    Using scientific instruments aboard a self-propelled ocean glider and several airplanes, this first deployment of the Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE) mission will deploy its suite of water- and air-borne instruments to ensure that they work together to show what’s happening just below the ocean’s surface. The full-fledged field campaign will begin in October 2021, with the aircraft based out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

    “This campaign in May is largely to compare different ways of measuring ocean surface currents so that we can have confidence in those measurements when we get to the pilot in October,” said Tom Farrar, associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and principal investigator for S-MODE.

    The S-MODE team hopes to learn more about small-scale movements of ocean water such as eddies. These whirlpools span about 6.2 miles or ten kilometers, slowly moving ocean water in a swirling pattern. Scientists think that these eddies play an important role in moving heat from the surface to the ocean layers below, and vice versa. In addition, the eddies may play a role in the exchange of heat, gases and nutrients between the ocean and Earth’s atmosphere. Understanding these small-scale eddies will help scientists better understand how Earth’s oceans slow down global climate change.

  • S-MODE Conducts Field Campaign in Southern California

    After a 13-month delay to the start of science operations due to COVID-19, the Submesoscale Ocean Dynamics and Vertical Transport Experiment (S-MODE) investigation has officially started collecting data with a short field campaign that began on May 3. This campaign features flights based at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) main campus in Edwards, CA on the AFRC B200, a deployment of instrumented ocean Wave Gliders from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) that look at currents at depth and other environmental conditions, and a Twin Otter International (TOI) aircraft. The B200 is equipped with the JPL Doppler Scatterometry instrument (DopplerScatt) that measures ocean surface velocity and wind, and UCLA’s Multiscale Observing System of the Ocean Surface (MOSES) that measures sea surface temperature (SST). The TOI Twin Otter carries the SIO Modular Aerial Sensing System (MASS), which measures sea surface topography, SST, ocean color, and ocean surface waves.
     
    The week of May 3 marked a number of long-awaited firsts for S-MODE. On Monday, the first flight on the B200 with the combined payload of the JPL DopplerScatt and UCLA MOSES instruments flew lines between Catalina and San Clemente islands — an area of strong ocean currents. The research activities on Friday, centered at  Office of Naval Research experiment site about 350 km offshore of Los Angeles, allowed the science team to conduct joint operations for the first time among the four instruments listed above. This combination of instruments represents some of the key measurements that will be made during future S-MODE campaigns. Demonstrating successful joint operations among these platforms is a key milestone for the S-MODE investigation, and the science team is very pleased with the resulting data so far.
     
    The current experiment will continue until May 18 in preparation for the S-MODE October Pilot campaign, whose flight operations will be based at NASA Ames Research Center.

    S-MODE is supported by the Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program Office at NASA Langley Research Center through the Earth Venture Suborbital-3 program and managed by the Earth Science Project Office (ESPO) at NASA Ames Research Center.

    Picture:  Pilots Jim Less (NASA AFRC) and Mike Stewart (NASA ARC) and instrument investigators Jeroen Molemaker (UCLA) and Federica Polverari (JPL) before takeoff of RF4 on May 7, 2021. (Photo J. Piotrowski, AFRC)

  • NASA embarks on five US expeditions targeting air, land and sea

    NASA is sending five airborne campaigns across the United States in 2020 to investigate fundamental processes that ultimately impact human lives and the environment, from snowstorms along the East Coast to ocean eddies off the coast of San Francisco.

  • JPL Airborne Mission Is One of Five New Earth Ventures

    Five new NASA Earth science campaigns, including one from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will take to the field starting in 2020 to investigate a range of pressing research questions, from what drives intense East Coast snowfall events to the impact of small-scale ocean currents on global climate.

  • New Airborne Campaigns to Explore Snowstorms, River Deltas, Climate

    Five new NASA Earth science campaigns will take to the field starting in 2020 to investigate a range of pressing research questions, from what drives intense East Coast snowfall events to the impact of small-scale ocean currents on global climate.

    These studies will explore important, but not-well-understood, aspects of Earth system processes and were competitively selected as part of NASA’s Earth Venture-class program. This is NASA’s third series of Earth Venture suborbital investigations, which are regularly solicited, sustained observation projects first recommended by the National Research Council in 2007. The first set of five projects was selected in 2010, and the second in 2014.

  • New Technology Doubles Scientists’ View of Ocean-Air Interactions

    NASA scientists are hard at work trying to unlock mysteries of our planet’s ocean surface currents and winds using a new Earth science radar instrument called DopplerScatt.

    Ocean currents and winds form a never-ending feedback loop: winds blow over the ocean's surface, creating currents. At the same time, the hot or cold water in these currents influences the wind's speed. Understanding the relationship between the two phenomena is crucial to understanding Earth's changing climate. Gathering data on this interaction can also help people track oil spills, plan shipping routes and understand ocean productivity in relation to fisheries.