UC Joins Team to Implement Triana Space Mission for Climatic Study

August 17, 1999

Cindy Clark
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

SAN DIEGO, CA: Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography are leading the Triana spacecraft mission, which will significantly broaden our scientific understanding of global climatic change. NASA has selected a Scripps team to implement a unique space mission to study the Earth for the first time from the Lagrange neutral gravity point between the Earth and the Sun (L1), one million miles from Earth. Triana will attempt to answer two of the major climatic questions of our time: how much solar energy is absorbed in the Earth’s atmosphere, and how that energy is distributed throughout the Earth’s climatic system.

Energy from the Sun fuels the Earth’s climatic system. in order to construct accurate computer models of how this climatic system works, scientists must understand how the Sun interacts with the atmosphere, clouds, aerosols, oceans, and land masses. By developing better models, scientists can more accurately predict future changes, both as the natural variability of climate and as the consequences of human actions.

To date, scientists have had to merge thousands of measurements taken at different times and locations by various satellites in low earth and geostationary orbits to attempt to construct a composite of Earth and its climatic activity--rather like trying to assemble an enormous jigsaw puzzle. The Triana spacecraft will provide a solution to this long-standing problem by collecting data from a single vantage point.

Francisco P.J. Valero, director of the Atmospheric Research Laboratory at Scripps, is leading the Triana mission. With a specialized team, he will oversee design, construction and launching of the spacecraft. Once in space, Triana will provide, for the first time, a view of the entire sunlit side of the Earth including the poles. Triana also will measure the solar wind to better monitor space weather. This can improve the accuracy of solar flare warnings to satellite operators, Space Shuttle and Space Station astronauts, and people on Earth.

Triana’s images of Earth will be widely distributed via the Internet. It is hoped that students and other internet users will gain a better understanding of Earth from these images. NASA has not had a spacecraft to provide the public with a full disk images of the Earth since Apollo. Triana will also transmit sunlit pictures of the far side of the moon, smoke and plumes of major forest fires, volcanic events, and eclipses of the Earth by the Moon.

The goals of the Triana mission are as follows:

Understanding Climate:To understand the way in which solar energy influences the Earth’s climate: reflection, absorption, and re-emission of solar radiation as infrared radiation (heat). Triana will study clouds, aerosols, atmospheric composition, oceans, ice and land surfaces, determining their responses to the solar energy. Triana’s advanced radiometers will measure the reflected and emitted energy over a critical angle range with unprecedented accuracy. These accurate measurements will help to develop better computer models of the Earth’s climate system, improve predictions of climate, and show how human activities influence climatic change.

Monitoring Ozone: To gather data about the amount and distribution of ozone in the upper atmosphere in more detail than is now possible. TOMS, the sensor currently used to measure ozone, provides information every 24 hours with a resolution of about 63 miles. Triana will measure ozone distribution every hour from sunrise to sunset, at about 5 miles spatial resolution. This information will enable scientists to better understand the circulation of airmasses in the stratosphere. Also it will better explain how the ozone poor air coming from the ozone “hole” over the pole mixes with air at mid and low latitudes, where most people live.

Ultraviolet Radiation and Skin Cancer: To collect information on the amount of aerosols and clouds in the atmosphere. When viewed with the ozone monitoring information, this information will allow scientists to predict the level of ultraviolet radiation associated with skin cancer at the earth's surface. Providing this information on an hourly basis for the whole planet, Triana will help reduce radiation hazards by administering radiation warnings.

Improving Science Education: To develop high-quality educational products. Under a NASA-sponsored educational enhancement program, professional educators will develop educational products using Triana’s views of the full, Sun-lit Earth. These materials will be shared over the Internet to allow students to study science issues such as global changes in ozone, cloud cover, weather patterns, pollution plumes, and seasonal changes.

Aviation Safety: To provide safety information to aviators. The sensitive instruments on Triana will be able to track plumes from major fires, desert-dust sources, and volcanoes. This data will used by the Federal Aviation Administration to reroute planes as necessary.

Named for Rodrigo de Triana, the sailor on Columbus’ voyage who first saw the New World, Triana will begin its one million-mile journey aboard a Space Shuttle at the start of the new Millennium. If the two-year space mission is successful, it will pioneer a whole new generation of Earth observation.

Editor’s Notes:

For more information, visit Scripps Institution of Oceanography at http://sio.ucsd.edu and the Triana homepage at http://triana.gsfc.nasa.gov/home/.

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