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NASA Earth satellite offers first global precipitation maps

"The IMERG data gives us an unprecedented view of global precipitation every 30 minutes," Skofronick-Jackson said.

By Brooks Hays

GREENBELT, Md., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- A year ago Friday, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) put the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory into orbit. Now, for the first time, data collected by the Earth-observing satellite has been used to build a comprehensive map of Earth's precipitation.

"In the UK, they experience mostly light rain," Gail Skofronick-Jackson, GPM project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, told Quartz. "In India they experience monsoons. In other regions, there's snow. GPM can measure it all."

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The Core Observatory pulls together data from a network of 12 international satellites orbiting the globe, using the information -- in coordination with computer models back on Earth -- to construct a global snapshot of precipitation in three dimensions. GPM's coordination of data is called Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals, or IMERG.

"The IMERG data gives us an unprecedented view of global precipitation every 30 minutes," Skofronick-Jackson, explained in a press release. "Knowing where, when and how much it rains and snows is vital to understanding Earth's water cycle."

Scientists hope to use the new data to better understand and predict heavy rainfall patterns and events like monsoons, hurricanes, typhoons and more. Researchers also expect that GPM's 3-D renderings of cloud and precipitation data will improve basic weather forecasting models.

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But GPM and its allied satellites are just part of the picture. In the last year, NASA has expanded its Earth-observing missions in unprecedented fashion, launching five new satellites -- four of which are already sending back data. The fifth, SMAP, which is designed to measure soil moisture, will begin collecting data this summer.

Together, the new mission will offer an unprecedented look at Earth's climatic systems -- revealing new details on carbon dioxide levels, ocean winds, cloud structures, aerosols and more. Scientists will use the data to formulate a more comprehensive understanding of Earth's carbon cycles.

"This has been a phenomenally productive year for NASA in our mission to explore our complex planet from the unique vantage point of space," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Combined with data from our other Earth-observing spacecraft, these new missions will give us new insights into how Earth works as a system."

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