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Where Ocean Meets Sky: New NASA Radar Gets a Tryout

June 1, 2017
Technology To Benefit Weather and Climate Studies, Maritime Uses

Ocean currents and winds form an endless feedback loop: winds blow over the ocean’s surface, creating currents there. At the same time, the hot or cold water in these currents influences the wind’s speed.

This delicate dance is crucial to understanding Earth’s changing climate. Gathering data on this interaction can also help people track oil spills, plan shipping routes and understand ocean productivity in relation to fisheries.

Instruments already exist that measure ocean currents, and others that measure wind, such as NASA’s QuickScat and RapidScat. But a new, airborne radar instrument developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is able to measure both.

Called DopplerScatt, the instrument is a spinning radar that “pings” the ocean’s surface, allowing it to take measurements from multiple directions at once. It’s a step up from previous technology, which could simultaneously measure current from one or two directions at the most, and couldn’t measure properties of the sea surface as completely as this new instrument.

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