US: NASA produced its first global map of the salinity of the ocean surface. Aquarius, which is aboard the Aquarius/SAC-D (Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas) observatory, is making NASA’s first space observations of ocean surface salinity variations — a key component of Earth’s climate. Salinity changes are linked to the cycling of freshwater around the planet and influence ocean circulation.
“Aquarius’ salinity data are showing much higher quality than we expected to see this early in the mission,” said Aquarius Principal Investigator Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research in Seattle. “Aquarius soon will allow scientists to explore the connections between global rainfall, ocean currents and climate variations.”
The new map, which shows a tapestry of salinity patterns, demonstrates Aquarius’ ability to detect large-scale salinity distribution features clearly and with sharp contrast. The map is a composite of the data since Aquarius became operational on Aug. 25. The mission was launched June 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Aquarius/SAC-D is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina’s space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE).
“Aquarius/SAC-D already is advancing our understanding of ocean surface salinity and Earth’s water cycle,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division at agency headquarters in Washington. “Aquarius is making continuous, consistent, global measurements of ocean salinity, including measurements from places we have never sampled before.”
“Aquarius has exposed a pattern of ocean surface salinity that is rich in variability across a wide range of scales,” said Aquarius science team member Arnold Gordon, professor of oceanography at Columbia University in Palisades, N.Y., and at the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “This is a great moment in the history of oceanography. The first image raises many questions that oceanographers will be challenged to explain.”