NASA’s Aquarius produces first global map of ocean salinity

NASA has produced its first global map of the salinity of the ocean surface, thanks to its new Aquarius instrument.

Aquarius, which is aboard the Aquarius/SAC-D (Satelite de Aplicaciones

CientA­ficas) observatory, is making NASA’s first space observations of ocean surface salinity variations – a key component of Earth’s climate.

“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 and Space Research in Seattle.

“Aquarius soon will allow scientists to explore the connections between global rainfall, ocean currents and climate variations,” he stated.

The new map, which shows a tapestry of salinity patterns, demonstrates the ability of Aquarius 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 after the mission was launched on June 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“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 New York and at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of

Columbia University in Palisades, N.Y.

“This is a great moment in the history of oceanography. The first image raises many questions that oceanographers will be challenged to explain,” Gordon added.

The map shows several well-known ocean salinity features such as higher salinity in the subtropics; higher average salinity in the Atlantic Ocean compared to the Pacific and Indian Oceans; and lower salinity in rainy belts near the equator, in the northernmost Pacific Ocean and elsewhere.

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