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The EarthCARE satellite was launched into space to explore how clouds affect climate

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Agenpress – Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a Falcon 9 rocket, the EarthCare satellite is the hero of one of the most complex Earth observation missions. In fact, its mission is to collect data on clouds and aerosols, which will help understand climate change. The EartCare (Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer) mission arose from the collaboration between ESA and the Japanese space agency Jaxa, and has an important contribution from Italy, through the Italian Space Agency and industry, with Leonardo.

“Clouds, aerosols and radiation will soon be understood more clearly, as a unique combination of four instruments aboard EarthCare solves some of the most mysterious aspects of our atmosphere,” ESA Director General Joseph Aschbacher wrote on the stand. Designed and built by a consortium of more than 75 companies with Airbus as prime contractor, the mission has an important contribution from the Italian Space Agency and our country’s industry, with Leonardo. The latter created components for two of the four devices on board, as well as solar panels and a special sensor to guide the satellite if necessary.

He said in a press conference that EarthCARE will become the first satellite to measure the vertical and horizontal distribution of clouds.

Two of the satellite’s instruments will shine light into the clouds to explore their depth.

One of these, which involves light detection and ranging, or LIDAR, will use a laser pulse to measure both clouds and aerosols, which are small particles like dust and pollen or human-emitted pollutants like smoke or ash.

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Gilleron explained that aerosols are the front of clouds. The satellite’s radar will drill into the clouds to measure the amount of water they contain and monitor the speed of the clouds. Other instruments will measure shape and temperature.

The data will form the first comprehensive picture of clouds from a satellite perspective and will help update climate models that estimate how quickly our world will warm.

The mission aims to find out “whether the current cloud effect, which is currently cooling – the canopy overtakes the blanket – will become stronger or weaker,” Gilleron said.

This trend has become more difficult to predict, as global warming has changed the distribution of clouds.

“EarthCARE is being launched at a more important time than when it was launched in 2004,” Chili said.

“The mission comes at a critical time when advancing our scientific knowledge is more important than ever to understand and act on climate change, and we look forward to receiving the first data,” said Simonetta Celli, ESA’s Earth Observation Program Director.

“Increasing the accuracy of global climate models using EarthCARE data will allow us to better predict future climate and thus take the necessary mitigation measures,” said Ichi Tomita, scientific director of the JAXA radar, which will measure the speed of upwelling and downwelling within the region. the clouds.

It is the first device in the world capable of detecting a similar measurement. Another important tool is atmospheric lidar, which uses lasers to measure the profiles of cirrus clouds and aerosols; Multispectral imaging provides a broad overview of the scene at different wavelengths, while the broadband radiometer directly measures reflected solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation.

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Clouds – from cumulonimbus and cirrocumulus to cumulonimbus – are a diverse and complex phenomenon. Dominique Gilleron, head of the Earth Observation Projects Department at the European Space Agency, explained that its formation depends on its location in the troposphere, which is the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.

“I am one of the main drivers of climate change – and one of the least understood,” Gilleron told AFP.

The troposphere begins at an altitude of about eight kilometers (five miles) above the polar regions, but begins near the equator at an altitude of about 18 kilometers (11 miles). This means that clouds affect climate differently depending on their altitude and latitude.

Bright white cumulus clouds, made of water droplets, lie low and act like a sun canopy, reflecting solar radiation back into space and cooling the atmosphere.

Above, thin clouds made of ice crystals allow solar radiation to pass through, warming our world. Then the cirrus clouds trap the heat like a blanket.

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