Satellite reveals first high quality measurements of oceans’ salinity

Added by on September 25, 2011

A satellite designed to provide monthly global measurements of the oceans' salinity sent back the first map of its kind

A satellite designed to provide monthly global measurements of the oceans’ salinity sent back its first global map on Sunday, the first map of its kind.

The new map was created using an instrument called Aquarius that’s capable of measuring and studying the oceans’ salt levels – changes in salinity influence ocean circulation and affect the Earth’s climate.

The director of NASA’s Earth Science Division at agency headquarters said, “Aquarius/SAC-D already is advancing our understanding of ocean surface salinity and Earth’s water cycle. Aquarius is making continuous, consistent, global measurements of ocean salinity, including measurements from places we have never sampled before.”

Arnold Gordon, a member of the Aquarius science team and professor of oceanography said, “Aquarius has exposed a pattern of ocean surface salinity that is rich in variability across a wide range of scales. This is a great moment in the history of oceanography. The first image raises many questions that oceanographers will be challenged to explain.”

Aquarius measurements were of much better quality than initially expected, especially so early in the satellite’s mission. Scientists verified the satellite’s readings using reference readings taken here on Earth using ships, buoys, and other instruments.

The Aquarius satellite can measure the salinity of the Earth’s oceans in just eight days, making monthly measurements possible.

The map produced by Aquarius yielded some surprising results including larger than expected extent of low-salinity water from the outflow of the Amazon river.

The satellite was launched on June 10, 2011 from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a Delta II 7320 rocket. Vandenberg Air Force Base is used to launch space vehicles that occupy a north-south orbit.