NASA will launch twin satellites to study changing water cycles on Earth


NASA is prepared to launch its twin space-crafts towards the end of observing the means by which the water cycle on Earth gets evolves and changes. It has come up with an innovative technique to do so, according to researchers.

In a news release, NASA has reported that the “Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO)” mission will be launched along with the “German Research Centre for Geosciences “not before 19th May 2018. The operation involves two identical satellites which should function as one “single instrument” while orbiting around our planet at a distance of 137 miles away from each other.

As stated by Michael Watkins, the mission's science lead, it is not possible to observe water from space as long as it remains underground. Neither is it possible to take pictures nor make use of radar to study radiation bounced from the water’s surface and draw conclusions accordingly. However, the one thing that underground water possesses is mass, and it is using this property that GRACE-FO will observe changes on a large scale

On a similar note, keeping track of changes in the mass of polar ice sheets is difficult as well. What GRACE-FO does is it puts a 'scale' beneath the ice sheets to track changes in them over the course of time.

The research will be picked up by GRACE-FO from where it was left off in 2017, after an ongoing study of 15 years; the first edition of the GRACE mission. The two new satellites will continue to record data for five years, thus adding to the utility and credibility of the mission. The GRACE mission is known for calculating the extent to which loss of mass has taken place in the glaciers and ice sheets of Greenland as well as Antarctica. It also helped in identifying trends project being undertaken at sea-level.

The twin satellites are responsible for monitoring changes in composition in the Earth's oceans, land, and atmosphere and ice sheets. The new technique to determine changes in the Earth’s water cycle involves measuring water’s movement both above and below Earth’s surface using its weight. For this, space-crafts will consider measuring changes taking place in our planet’s gravitational field resulted by movement of water, ice, and Earth itself.

According to scientists at NASA, the data that is collected will help in attaining unique insights on issues like our planet’s changing climate, system processes, impacts of human activities and also benefit our society by helping to formulate newer approaches in the field of water management.