NASA has a busy year ahead of it, with plans currently underway to launch five Earth science missions, including one designed to help monitor floods and droughts.
The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, scheduled to launch in November, will help better scientists' understanding of the cycling of water, energy and carbon by both mapping the Earth's soil moisture as well as gathering detailed indications of the ground's freeze-thaw state.
Information gathered by the mission will be used to help guide water resource management, help predict plant growth and climate, and monitor floods and droughts.
"On our home planet Earth, water is an essential requirement for life and for most human activities. We must understand the details of how water moves within and between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land if we are to predict changes to our climate and the availability of water resources," Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington, said in a statement.
NASA will also be joining up with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency for a second mission, known as the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, designed to initiate the first nearly global surveillance of precipitation.
"Coupled with data from other ongoing NASA missions that measure sea-surface salinity and that detect changes in underground aquifer levels, with GPM and SMAP we will have unprecedented measurements of our planet's vital water cycle," Freilich said.
Other missions include the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, a technology demonstration mission that will use three-wavelength lasers to increase satellite observations of small particles in the Earth's atmosphere, and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, designed to make global CO2 measurements.
"As NASA prepares for future missions to an asteroid and Mars, we're focused on Earth right now," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "With five new missions set to launch in 2014, this really is shaping up to be the year of the Earth, and this focus on our home planet will make a significant difference in people's lives around the world."
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