The old adage that everyone complains about the weather,
but no one does anything about it may soon fall by the
wayside, thanks to the quality of data from NASA’s new
“thermometer in the sky” — a suite of three advanced weather
instruments aboard the Aqua spacecraft.

First images from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder
spectrometer and its two companion instruments, the Advanced
Microwave Sounding Unit and the Humidity Sounder for Brazil,
are exceeding the expectations of the world meteorological
community. The results, project scientists say, will be
substantially improved short-term weather-prediction accuracy
and tracking of severe weather events like hurricanes, as
well as advances in climate research.

“The three sounding instruments of the Atmospheric Infrared
Sounder experiment system will comprehensively capture a
continuous, detailed picture of Earth’s atmosphere for use in
global weather prediction and climate studies,” said Dr.
Moustafa Chahine, experiment science-team leader at NASA’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “The instruments
are in excellent health and are ready to serve NASA, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — or NOAA,
and the broader climate research community.”

The first-light images may be found at:

The sounding-package experiment, with its visible, infrared
and microwave detectors, provides a three-dimensional look at
Earth’s weather. Working in tandem, the three instruments can
make simultaneous observations from space all the way to the
Earth’s surface, even in the presence of heavy clouds. With
more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the
atmosphere, the system creates a global, 3-D map of
atmospheric temperature and humidity and provides information
on clouds, greenhouse gases and many other atmospheric

Chahine said the key to increasing the useful range of
weather forecasts from the current two-to-three days to five
days is to observe today’s weather with much higher accuracy.

“The accuracy of computer models is dependent upon the
quality of today’s weather information,” he said. “Our
experiment will effectively multiply by 100 our existing
global armada of 4,000 weather balloons, giving us global
coverage over land and sea from space with the same data
quality as ground-launched balloons. This additional data
will dramatically reduce errors that have traditionally
limited the range of current weather forecast models.”

Claire Parkinson, Aqua project scientist at NASA’s Goddard
Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., said the impact on world
commerce from improved weather and climate prediction may be
enormous. “From the data measured by these three instruments,
we can better understand the global water cycle and its
implications for managing fresh water resources. Improved
temperature predictions will help commerce move merchandise
and fuel where needed to meet cold- or warm-weather demands.
Other industries that are strongly dependent on weather will
also benefit, including aviation, transportation and

The experiment recently completed calibration and is now
transmitting continuous, uninterrupted data to the project
science team and NOAA. Instrument validation will continue
through next June, as NOAA evaluates the new data set, learns
how to integrate it and gains confidence in its accuracy.

Following instrument validation, the data will be integrated
into existing weather prediction models by NOAA’s National
Centers for Environmental Prediction and six of the world’s
leading weather-prediction centers. The data will also will
be distributed to the World Meteorological Organization in
Switzerland, where it will be made available to 105

Aqua’s planned six-year mission will collect data from the
six instruments aboard on global temperature variations,
cycling of water, global precipitation, evaporation, changes
in ocean circulation and how clouds and surface-water
processes affect climate. The information will help
scientists better understand how global ecosystems change and
how they respond to and affect global environmental change.