The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched a new satellite mission to study ocean health, air quality, and the effects of climate change. The new mission known as PACE, the Plankton, Aerosol, Climate, and Ocean Ecosystem satellite, launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
According to NASA, “Congratulations to the PACE team on a successful launch. With this new addition to NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites, PACE will help us learn, like never before, how particles in our atmosphere and our oceans can identify key factors impacting global warming,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Missions like this are supporting the Biden-Harris Administration’s climate agenda and helping us answer urgent questions about our changing climate.”
The Space Agency also noted that from hundreds of miles above Earth, the PACE mission will study the impact of tiny, often invisible things: microscopic life in water and microscopic particles in the air.
The satellite’s hyperspectral ocean color instrument will allow researchers to measure oceans and other waterbodies across a spectrum of ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light. This will enable scientists to track the distribution of phytoplankton and for the first time from space, also identify which communities of these organisms are present on daily, global scales. Scientists and coastal resource managers can use the data to help forecast the health of fisheries, track harmful algal blooms, and identify changes in the marine environment.
The spacecraft also carries two polarimeter instruments, Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter #2 and Spectro-polarimeter for Planetary Exploration. These will detect how sunlight interacts with particles in the atmosphere, giving researchers new information on atmospheric aerosols and cloud properties, as well as air quality at local, regional, and global scales.
With the combination of the instrument and the polarimeters, PACE will provide insights into the interactions of the ocean and atmosphere, and how a changing climate affects these interactions.