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    Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere from Environmental Satellites

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    The use of satellites for the remote sensing of the earth and its atmosphere is reviewed. Meteorological satellites have been in use since 1960. The polar orbiting satellites at 650 to 1500 km make 12 to 14 orbits daily with nearly full earth coverage. The geosynchronous satellites at 36 000 km remain approximately fixed in space relative to the earth and view the same area continuously.

    Cameras obtaining earth images in the visible detect clouds and monitor storm systems. Infrared radiometers measure temperatures of the surface or cloud tops and also determine amounts of ozone and water vapor in the atmosphere. Radiometers sensitive to different spectral regions in absorption bands (such as carbon dioxide [CO2] at 15 and 4.3 μm) are used to determine atmospheric vertical temperature profiles.

    The earth's radiation budget is determined from satellite measurements of the reflected solar radiation and the emitted longwave terrestrial radiation.

    Atmospheric winds are obtained by cloud tracking from geosynchronous satellites. A major problem is height determination. Infrared “window” measurements of the brightness temperature from clouds provide some information on cloud top heights, but cloud emisisivity and sensor resolution are still sources of error.

    Microwave imagery has been used to determine rainfall intensities over the ocean, snow, and ice cover and flood mapping through clouds. It has also been possible to distinguish between first and multiyear ice. There is a potential capability for measuring soil moisture using long-wavelength (21 cm) radiometers. Landsat visual and near-infrared measurements also allow flood monitoring and observations of crop growth.

    The Nimbus 4 Backscatter Ultraviolet (BUV) instrument has provided seven years of measurements from which total ozone and vertical ozone distribution can be determined.

    Future missions include TIROS N satellites with improved capabilities for measuring sea surface temperatures, mapping snow and ice fields, monitoring global ozone, and continued measurements of the earth's radiation budget. SEASAT A will be devoted to oceanographic measurements.

    Nimbus G sensors will observe certain atmospheric pollutants, oceanic parameters, and weather and climate variables. The Shuttle, in addition to serving as a launch vehicle for free flying satellites, will make periodic calibration checks of instruments on the free flyers and provide facilities for developing, testing, and demonstrating new remote sensors.


    satellite meteorology, remote sensing theory, satellite instruments, meteorology, operational satellite data, first GARP global experiment, environmental satellite programs, climate program, ozone

    Author Information:

    Allison, LJ
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Wexler, R
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Laughlin, CR
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Bandeen, WR
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Committee/Subcommittee: D22.11

    DOI: 10.1520/STP36584S