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NASA Knows Where the Vapor 'GOES'

Jun 25, 2014 12:13 PM EDT
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Aerial view of severe flooding in Italy captured after residents evacuated

The NASA/NOAA GOES Project has recently released two stunning images of water vapor patterns moving over the Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans. This project, the agency claims, will help make forecast and early-warning systems even more accurate, while simultaneously providing more data to observe changing extreme weather patterns.

According to NASA and the NOAA, these latest images are part of a new class of GOES monitoring that will allow meteorologists to track water vapor patterns and mid-level dry-air winds that are otherwise unknown.

Meteorologists traditionally use water vapor imagery to predict movement of moisture in the upper and middle atmosphere. However, water balloons cannot maintain their position over oceans in the middle atmosphere, leaving a lot of guess work.

Dennis Chesters, the flight project scientist for the GOES Project, explained that this new imagery, which is open to the public and updated every hour, can help fill that gap.

Now, wind patterns carrying global water vapor can be estimated by analyzing features shown in the GOES imagery, which can then be "used in numerical weather models to improve long range forecasts," Chesters said in a statement.

He explains that this technology can help meteorologists see extreme and unexpected weather conditions before they happen.

"For instance, the dry slot between Hawaii and Southern California sometimes spins up into a whirlwind that moves ashore and would surprise the southwestern US if NOAA's GOES-West satellite had not detected it."

The GOES Project is a satellite system constantly being improved upon with new models and additions since 1989. Currently two high-end satellites, GOES-13 and GOES-15, sit 60 degrees apart in a fixed orbit over the Earth, and observe the east and west sides of the Americas, respectively.

These satellites can detect water vapor in the infrared spectrum between 6.3 and 7.3 micrometer wavelength ranges, allowing them to peer straight through the upper atmosphere and into the middle atmosphere over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

You can check out a wide range of GOES Project imagery at the project webpage.

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