Science and Technology Strategy
The NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) vision to improve life here with the mission to understand and protect our home planet demands fundamentally new technology that advances economic and societal safety and stability through a decidedly more sophisticated union of in situ and remote observations of the Earth system. Investigation of how the living Earth system is changing due to naturally occurring and human induced processes, and investigation of the consequences of these changes for life on Earth, can only be achieved by tactical advances in the technology that more effectively joins the observational and modeling strategy of the SMD.
Predominant issues that underpin the national effort in Earth system science, climate research and human health include:
- The dynamical, chemical and radiative structure of the dominant regional-to-global scale plumes from the rapidly expanding economies of the world that establish an imperative to forecast events that constitute a collision between human health, economic build-up, and international guidelines on the import/export of air and water-borne toxicity.
- The dynamical, chemical and radiative structure of the tropics and subtropics that establish the fundamental structure and function of the Earth’s climate system and, in addition, determine how that structure will change in response to a rapidly increasing array of climate forcings by both infrared trapping and short-wave, aerosol induced changes in albedo.
- The predominant, seasonally dependent pathways in the Hadley, Walker, Brewer-Dobson, Monsoon and associated smaller scale systems that are fundamental to the transport structure of the atmospheric system and to changes in those patterns in response to changes in sea surface temperatures, ice and snow cover, and optical properties of the atmosphere, etc.
- Accurate forecasting of ultraviolet dosage levels over heavily populated regions of the Earth in the coming decades as changing boundary conditions in the tropopause region of the tropics alter both the temperature and water vapor mole fraction of the stratosphere, affecting both the free radical catalytic destruction of ozone and the transport patterns that carry ozone from its production region in the tropics to mid and high-latitudes.
- Quantitatively rigorous accounting of national budgets for carbon compounds by comprehensive determination of sources and sinks via sophisticated flux measurements, and for nitrate, sulfate and organic precursors both for photo-oxidant production and for changes in optical properties that control the energy balance of the Earth-Sun system.
- Structure and response to chemical and physical forcing of the cloud/water vapor system of the Earth’s atmosphere that dictates the balance between (1) low altitude cloud systems that, through short-wave forcing, potentially cool the planet, and (2) high altitude cirrus systems that constitute powerful infrared trapping.
A key regime in technology innovation to advance the objectives of SMD is the union between advanced laser development, the application of UAVs, and collaboration with the new generation of NASA satellites for Earth observations. The schematic depicting this strategy is displayed in Figure 1.
In order to realize major advances in achieving NASA SMD objectives, it is important to identify new strategies for uniting the orbital and sub-orbital components of the program that will effectively join in situ and remote observations from a combination of platforms to far more rigorously test key hypotheses, establish the veracity of retrievals, expand the spatial and temporal coverage of the overlap between high resolution in situ measurements of fluxes and of chemical, dynamical and radiatively important species, and finally join, with a far more comprehensive footprint, sub-orbital in situ/remote observations with observations from the NASA A-Train constellation of Earth observing satellites. Emphasis of this research focuses on the union of scientific objectives among Aura, Parasol, Calipso, CloudSat, Aqua and the technology innovation for UAV deployment that is the primary objective of Instrument Incubator Program innovation.