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Studying the Health of Our Oceans and Climate on This Week @NASA – February 9, 2024
NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Climate, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 1:33 a.m. EST, Feb. 8, 2024, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. From its orbit hundreds of miles above Earth, PACE will study microscopic life in the oceans and microscopic particles in the atmosphere to investigate key mysteries of our planet’s interconnected systems.
NASA NASA’s satellite mission to study ocean health, air quality, and the effects of a changing climate for the benefit of humanity launched successfully into orbit at 1:33 a.m. EST Thursday.
Known as PACE, the Plankton, Aerosol, Climate, ocean Ecosystem satellite, launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. NASA confirmed signal acquisition from the satellite about five minutes after launch, and the spacecraft is performing as expected.
“Congratulations to the PACE team on a successful launch. With this new addition to NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites, PACE will help us learn, like never before, how particles in our atmosphere and our oceans can identify key factors impacting global warming,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Missions like this are supporting the Biden-Harris Administration’s climate agenda and helping us answer urgent questions about our changing climate.”
From hundreds of miles above Earth, the PACE mission will study the impact of tiny, often invisible things: microscopic life in water and microscopic particles in the air.
The satellite’s hyperspectral ocean color instrument will allow researchers to measure oceans and other waterbodies across a spectrum of ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light. This will enable scientists to track the distribution of phytoplankton and – for the first time from space – identify which communities of these organisms are present on daily, global scales. Scientists and coastal resource managers can use the data to help forecast the health of fisheries, track harmful algal blooms, and identify changes in the marine environment.
The spacecraft also carries two polarimeter instruments, Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter #2 and Spectro-polarimeter for Planetary Exploration. These will detect how sunlight interacts with particles in the atmosphere, giving researchers new information on atmospheric aerosols and cloud properties, as well as air quality at local, regional, and global scales.
With the combination of the instrument and the polarimeters, PACE will provide insights into the interactions of the ocean and atmosphere, and how a changing climate affects these interactions.
“Observations and scientific research from PACE will profoundly advance our knowledge of the ocean’s role in the climate cycle,” said Karen St. Germain, director, Earth Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The value of PACE data skyrockets when we combine it with data and science from our Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission – ushering in a new era of ocean science. As an open-source science mission with early adopters ready to use its research and data, PACE will accelerate our understanding of the Earth system and help NASA deliver actionable science, data, and practical applications to help our coastal communities and industries address rapidly evolving challenges.”
“It’s been an honor to work with the PACE team and witness firsthand their dedication and tenacity in overcoming challenges, including the global pandemic, to make this observatory a reality,” said Marjorie Haskell, PACE program executive at NASA Headquarters. “The passion and teamwork are matched only by the excitement of the science community for the data this new satellite will provide.”
Earth’s oceans are responding in many ways to climate change – from sea level rise to marine heat waves to a loss of biodiversity. With PACE, researchers will be able to study climate change’s effects on phytoplankton, which play a key role in the global carbon cycle by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it into their cellular material. These tiny organisms drive larger aquatic and global ecosystems that provide critical resources for food security, recreation, and the economy.
“After 20 years of thinking about this mission, it’s exhilarating to watch it finally realized and to witness its launch. I couldn’t be prouder or more appreciative of our PACE team,” said Jeremy Werdell, PACE project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The opportunities PACE will offer are so exciting, and we’re going to be able to use these incredible technologies in ways we haven’t yet anticipated. It’s truly a mission of discovery.”
NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, managed the launch services for the mission. The PACE mission is managed by NASA Goddard, which also built and tested the spacecraft and the ocean color instrument. The Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter #2 was designed and built by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the Spectro-polarimeter for Planetary Exploration was developed and built by a Dutch consortium led by Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Airbus Defence, and Space Netherlands.
For more information on PACE, visit:
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NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) observatory is inspected and processed on a spacecraft dolly in a high bay at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. NASA/Kim Shiflett NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for its upcoming mission to study how our oceans and atmosphere interact in a changing climate.
Launch of the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) mission is targeted for 1:33 a.m. EST, Tuesday, Feb. 6, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Once in orbit above Earth, PACE will shed light on the impact of tiny things – microscopic life in water and microscopic particles in the air.
Live launch coverage will begin at 12:45 a.m., Feb. 6, on NASA+, NASA Television, and the agency’s website. Full coverage of this mission including prelaunch activities is as follows (all times Eastern):
Sunday, Feb. 4
9:15 a.m. – NASA Social Panel livestream at NASA Kennedy. Watch live on YouTube, Facebook and X social media channels with the following NASA participants answering #AskNASA questions:
Karen St. Germain, director, Earth Science Division Marjorie Haskell, PACE program executive Laura Lorenzoni, PACE program scientist Ivona Cetinic, PACE ocean scientist Juli Lander, PACE deputy project manager 11 a.m. – PACE Science Briefing on NASA+ with the following agency participants:
Kate Calvin, chief scientist and senior climate advisor Karen St. Germain, director, Earth Science Division Jeremy Werdell, PACE project scientist Andy Sayer, atmospheric scientist, Sciences and Exploration Directorate Erin Urquhart, program manager, Water Resources Application Area Media may request the news conference dial-in number and passcode by contacting the Kennedy newsroom no later than 4 p.m., Friday, Feb. 2, at email@example.com. Members of the public also may ask questions, which may be answered in real time during the segment, by using #AskNASA on social media. On-site media may attend the briefing in person or via telephone.
12 p.m. – Immediately after the science briefing, the following NASA subject matter experts will be available for one-on-one media interviews at the Kennedy News Center on a first come, first-served basis.
Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate Karen St. Germain, director, Earth Science Division Kate Calvin, chief scientist and senior climate advisor Jeremy Werdell, PACE project scientist Andy Sayer, atmospheric scientist, Sciences and Exploration Directorate Erin Urquhart, program manager, Water Resources Application Area Mark Voyton, PACE project manager Juli Lander, PACE deputy project manager Gary Davis, PACE mission systems engineer Monday, Feb. 5
8 a.m. – NASA EDGE will host the PACE rollout show. The rollout show will air live on NASA+, NASA TV, and YouTube.
9 a.m. – PACE Prelaunch News Conference on NASA+ and NASA TV with the following participants:
NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free Karen St. Germain, director, Earth Science Division, NASA Tim Dunn, senior launch director, Launch Services Program, NASA Julianna Scheiman, director, Civil Satellite Missions, SpaceX Brian Cizek, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron, U.S. Space Force Media may request the news conference dial-in number and passcode by contacting the Kennedy newsroom no later than 4 p.m., Friday, Feb. 2, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the public also may ask questions by using #AskNASA on social media. On-site media may attend the briefing in person or via telephone.
Tuesday, Feb. 6
12:45 a.m. – Technical feed begins on NASA TV media channel.
12:45 a.m. – Live launch coverage will begin on NASA+ and NASA TV public channel.
For NASA TV downlink information, schedules, and links to streaming video, visit:
The deadline has passed for media accreditation for in-person coverage of this launch. The agency’s media accreditation policy is available online. More information about media accreditation is available by emailing: email@example.com. For all other questions, contact the newsroom at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 321-867-2468.
NASA Website Launch Coverage
Launch day coverage of NASA’s PACE mission will be available on the agency’s website. Coverage will include blog updates as well. Streaming video and photos of the launch will be available shortly after liftoff. Images of PACE’s processing and launch are available in this album.
Follow mission coverage on the PACE launch blog at:
Audio Only Coverage
Audio only of the news conferences and launch coverage will be carried on the NASA “V” circuits, which may be accessed by dialing 321-867-1220, -1240, or -7135. On launch day, “mission audio,” countdown activities without NASA TV launch commentary, will be carried on 321-867-7135. A “tech feed” of the launch without NASA TV commentary will be carried on the NASA TV media channel.
Attend Launch Virtually
Members of the public can register to attend the PACE launch virtually. NASA’s virtual guest program for this mission includes curated launch resources, notifications about related opportunities or changes, and a stamp for the NASA virtual guest passport following a successful launch.
Watch, Engage Online
Let people know you’re following NASA’s PACE mission. On Facebook, Instagram, and X, use the hashtag #KeepingPACE and #AskNASA. You also can stay connected by following and tagging these accounts:
Facebook: NASA, NASAKennedy, NASAGoddard, NASAEarth, NASALSP
Instagram: @NASA, @NASAKennedy, @NASAEarth
X: @NASA, @NASAKennedy, @NASASocial, @NASAGoddard, @NASAEarth, @NASA_LSP
The PACE project is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The agency’s Launch Services Program, based at NASA Kennedy, is responsible for managing the launch service for the PACE mission.
For more information about PACE, visit:
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NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) mission, seen here in an artist’s concept, is scheduled to launch no earlier than Feb. 6, 2024, to study Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, and climate. NASA/Conceptual Image Laboratory NASA will host a media teleconference at 12 p.m. EST, Wednesday, Jan. 17, to discuss the upcoming launch and science objectives of the agency’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) mission.
Once in orbit above Earth, the satellite will shed light on the impact of tiny things – microscopic life in water and microscopic particles in the air. With new global insights, PACE will help answer questions about how our oceans and atmosphere interact in a changing climate.
The audio-only teleconference will be livestreamed on the agency’s website.
NASA participants will include:
NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy Karen St. Germain, director, Earth Science Division, NASA Headquarters Jeremy Werdell, PACE project scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Mark Voyton, PACE project manager, NASA Goddard Noosha Haghani, PACE deputy mission systems engineer, NASA Goddard Otto Hasekamp, atmospheric scientist, SRON/Netherlands Institute for Space Research Erin Urquhart Jephson, PACE applications lead, NASA Goddard To participate in the teleconference, media must RSVP by 10 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 17 to Jacob Richmond at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-286-6255.
NASA’s PACE is scheduled to launch no earlier than 1:30 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 6, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Learn more about the agency’s PACE mission at:
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6 Min Read NASA’s PACE To Investigate Oceans, Atmospheres in Changing Climate
Earth is complex – the atmosphere, ocean, land, and each small interwoven facet of those systems is a puzzle piece that connects and fills out the full picture. With a changing climate, the puzzle is becoming more complex – and important – to understand. Credits:
NASA / Ryan Fitzgibbons and Emme Watkins Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are changing as the planet warms. Some ocean waters become greener as more microscopic organisms bloom. In the atmosphere, dust storms born on one continent affect the air quality of another, while smoke from massive wildfires can blanket entire regions for days.
NASA’s newest Earth-observing satellite, called PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem), is launching in February 2024 to help us better understand the complex systems driving these and other global changes that come with a warming climate.
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PACE will help assess ocean health by measuring the distribution of phytoplankton – tiny plant-like organisms and algae that sustain the marine food web. It will also extend records of key atmospheric variables associated with air quality and Earth’s climate.
Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio “The ocean and atmosphere interact in ways that need ongoing research to fully understand,” said Jeremy Werdell, project scientist for the PACE mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.“With PACE, we’ll open our eyes to many new aspects of climate change.”
The ocean is changing color
Climate change’s impact on the ocean are numerous, from sea level rise to marine heat waves to a loss of biodiversity. With PACE, researchers will be able to study its effect on marine life in its smallest form.
Phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like organisms that float near the water’s surface and form the center of the aquatic food web, providing food to all sorts of animals ranging from shellfish to finfish to whales. There are thousands of species of phytoplankton, each with different niches in the ocean.
During the spring and summer in the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia, blue and green blooms of phytoplankton are often visible. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on July 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory While a single phytoplankton typically can’t be seen with the naked eye, communities of trillions of phytoplankton, called blooms, can be seen from space. Blooms often take on a greenish tinge due to the chlorophyll molecules that phytoplankton, like land-based plants, use to make energy through photosynthesis.
According to Ivona Cetinić, an oceanographer in the Ocean Ecology Lab at NASA Goddard, phytoplankton are responding to changes in their environment. Differences in ocean temperatures, nutrients, or sunlight availability can cause a species to boom or bust.
From space, those changes in phytoplankton populations manifest as differences in hue, allowing scientists to study phytoplankton abundance and diversity from afar, and at a global scale. And scientists recently found that the ocean is turning a touch greener.
In a study published in 2023, researchers used chlorophyll concentration data collected for more than 20 years by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite to determine not only when and where phytoplankton blooms occurred, but also how healthy and abundant they were.
After analyzing ocean color data from the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite, scientists found that portions of the ocean had greened up with more chlorophyll-carrying phytoplankton.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory PACE’s Ocean Color Instrument (OCI), a hyperspectral sensor, will take marine science a leap further by allowing researchers to remotely differentiate phytoplankton by type. (Historically, species could only be determined by direct sampling of the water.) Each community has its own color signature that an instrument like OCI can identify.
Identification of phytoplankton types is key because different phytoplankton play vastly different roles in aquatic ecosystems. They have beneficial roles, like fueling the food chain or drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis. Some phytoplankton populations sequester carbon as they die and sink to the deep ocean; others release the gas back into the atmosphere as they decay near the surface.
But some, like those in harmful algae blooms, can negatively impact humans and aquatic ecosystems. And the presence of harmful algae can also tell us something about the quality of the water sources, such as the presence of too many nutrients from human activities. By identifying these communities in the ocean, scientists can tease out information about how and where phytoplankton are affected by climate change, and how changes in these tiny organisms may affect other creatures and ocean ecosystems.
Particles in the air feed phytoplankton at sea
Beyond their role as the grass of the sea, phytoplankton also play a role in a complex dance between atmosphere and ocean. And PACE will see both partners in this dance.
From space, with a view of the whole planet every two days, PACE will track both microscopic organisms in the ocean and microscopic particles in the atmosphere called aerosols. How these two interact will provide scientists with additional insights into the impact of a changing climate.
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This model shows the movement of aerosols over land and water in Aug. 2017. Hurricanes and tropical storms stand out due to the large amounts of sea salt particles caught up in their swirling winds. Dust blowing out of the Sahara can get caught by water droplets and rained out of the atmosphere. Smoke from massive wildfires in the Pacific Northwest of North America are carried across the Atlantic to Europe. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio For example, when aerosol particles from the atmosphere are deposited onto the ocean, they can provide essential nutrients to spark phytoplankton blooms. Winds sometimes carry ash and dust from wildfires and dust storms over the ocean. When these particles fall into the water, they can act as a fertilizer, providing nutrients such as iron that allow phytoplankton populations to grow.
As we go forward in a warming climate, with a potential for more forest fires and, therefore, a greater amount of ash deposition, we can assume there are going to be changes in the phytoplankton communities,
Oceanographer – Ocean Ecology Lab at NASA Goddard
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This visualization shows an example of a wildfire transitioning from day to night in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio While PACE’s color-detecting instrument will see changes in phytoplankton, the satellite also carries two instruments called polarimeters – SPEXone and HARP2 – that use properties of light (polarization) to observe aerosol particles and clouds. Scientists will be able to measure the size, composition, and abundance of these microscopic particles in our atmosphere.
Smoke, pollutants and dust seed the clouds, too
New data from PACE characterizing atmospheric particles will enable scientists to examine one of the trickiest components of climate change to model: how clouds and aerosols interact.
Clouds form when water condenses on airborne particles such as smoke and ash. One easy to spot example is ship tracks, which occur when water vapor condenses and forms bright, low-lying clouds on pollutants emitted by ships.
Ship tracks above the northern Pacific Ocean. NASA image captured July 3, 2010, by the Aqua satellite.
Credit: NASA NASA Different types of aerosols also influence the characteristics of clouds, such as their brightness, which is driven by cloud droplet size and number. These traits can lead to different impacts – either warming or cooling – on Earth’s surface.
For instance, a bright cloud or plume of aerosol particles hovering low over a much darker ocean reflects more light back into space, causing a localized cooling effect. Other times, both clouds and aerosols have a warming effect called blanketing. Thin plumes high up in the atmosphere absorb heat from Earth’s surface and then radiate it back toward the ground.
“From a climate perspective, the relationship between aerosols and clouds is one of the largest sources of uncertainty in our understanding of the climate,” said Kirk Knobelspiesse, polarimetry lead for the PACE mission at NASA Goddard. The satellite’s new insights into aerosol particles will help scientists fill in knowledge gaps and deepen our understanding of that relationship.
By Erica McNamee
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
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