Atmospheres 2004 Technical Highlights: Section 3 Our Research and its Place in NASA's

NASA’s overall program, outlined in the Agency’s strategic plan of 2003, has influenced the direction of our research effort in Earth and Space Science in recent years. The new vision for space exploration has resulted in the transformation of NASA’s goals and has produced a reorganization of NASA Headquarters and the NASA Centers during 2004. The former seven strategic enterprises have been transformed into four components or mission offices: Exploration Systems, Space Operations, Science, and Aeronautics Research. Following NASA Headquarters, Goddard Space Flight Center has reorganized and formed one Directorate combining Earth and Space Science into the Sciences and Exploration Directorate. The three Divisions under the new Sciences and Exploration Directorate are Earth–Sun Exploration, Solar System Exploration, and Exploration of the Universe. The Laboratory for Atmospheres is under the Earth–Sun Exploration Division. During 2004, one of our branches—the Atmospheric Experiment Branch, has been our Laboratory’s main contributor to Space Science. Effective at the end of 2004, the Atmospheric Experiment Branch will transition into the Solar System Exploration Division. Our remaining three Branches, Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes, Climate and Radiation, and Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics will continue their strong programs of research in Earth Sciences and in this way, will make significant contributions to the President’s Exploration Initiative. The remainder of this section outlines the connection of our research to NASA’s mission and strategic plans.

3.1 Earth Science and Space Science in the Laboratory for Atmospheres

The Laboratory for Atmospheres has a long history (40+ years) in Earth Science and Space Science missions studying atmospheres of Earth and the planets. The wide array of our work reflects this dual history of atmospheric research:

(1) from the early days of the TIROS and Nimbus satellites with emphasis on ozone, Earth radiation, and weather forecasting; and

(2) from the thermosphere and ionosphere satellites, the Orbiting Geophysical Observatory (OGO), the Explorer missions, and Pioneer Venus Orbiter to the recent Galileo mission, and current Cassini mission.

A current focus is on global climate change and one goal is to increase the accuracy and lead-time with which we can predict weather and climate change. The Laboratory for Atmospheres conducts basic and applied research in the cross-disciplinary research areas outlined in Table 1, and Laboratory scientists focus their efforts on satellite mission planning, instrument development, data analysis, and modeling.

Table 1: Science themes and our major research areas.

Science Themes

Major Research Areas


Atmospheric Chemistry

Carbon Cycle

Climate Change

Global Water and Energy Cycle

Weather and Short-term Climate Forecasting

Geodynamics and Solid Earth

Planetary Studies


Atmospheric Chemistry and Ozone

Atmospheric Hydrologic Cycle

Carbon Cycle

Clouds and Radiation

Climate Variability and Prediction

Mesoscale Processes

Precipitation Systems

Planetary Studies

Severe Weather

Chemistry-Climate Modeling

Global and Regional Climate Modeling

Data Assimilation


Our work can be classified into four primary activities or products: measurements, data sets, data analysis, and modeling. Table 2 depicts these activities and some of the topics they address.

Table 2: Laboratory for Atmospheres Science Activities.


Data Sets

Data Analysis




Field campaigns



Assimilated products

Global precipitation

MODIS cloud and aerosol

TOMS aerosol

TOMS surface UV

TOMS total ozone

TOVS Pathfinder

TRMM Global precipitation products

TRMM validation products

Aerosol cloud climate interaction


Atmospheric hydrologic cycle

Climate variability and climate change

Clouds and precipitation

Global temperature trends

Ozone and trace gases


UV-B measurements

Validation studies

Atmospheric chemistry

Clouds and mesoscale

Coupled climate–ocean

Data assimilation

Data retrievals

General circulation

Radiative transfer

Transport models

Weather and climate


Classification in the four major activity areas: measurements, data sets, data analysis, and modeling, is somewhat artificial, in that the activities are strongly interlinked and cut across science priorities and the organizational structure of the Laboratory. The grouping corresponds to the natural processes of carrying out scientific research: ask the scientific question, identify the variable needed to answer it, conceive the best instrument to measure the variable, generate data sets, analyze the data, model the data, and ask the next question.