EarthCARE Satellite’s Initial Image Unveils Cloud Structures

by Erica Marchand

Paris, France (SPX) Jul 01, 2024

Less than a month after its launch, ESA’s EarthCARE satellite has provided the first image from its cloud profiling radar, offering unprecedented insight into the internal structure and dynamics of clouds.

This initial image demonstrates the instrument’s capabilities, which will be fully realized once it is completely calibrated.

Equipped with four advanced instruments, EarthCARE is designed to explore the role clouds and aerosols play in Earth’s atmospheric heating and cooling, enhancing the understanding of climate change.

Launched on May 29, EarthCARE has already delivered its first image from the cloud profiling radar, an instrument developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. The data from EarthCARE’s three European instruments – the broadband radiometer, the atmospheric lidar, and the multispectral imager – are anticipated in the upcoming weeks and months.

JAXA’s Mission Scientist for the cloud profiling radar, Takuji Kubota, said, “We are thrilled to be able to present this first image, which reveals detail on the internal structure of cloud dynamics over the ocean, east of Japan on 13 June.

“This is the first image of its kind – we have never had this kind of information measured from space before. It is all we hoped for, and more. I believe that the cloud profiling radar will bring various scientific discoveries.”

The initial image is split into two sections. The left part reveals the vertical concentration of cloud particles measured as radar reflectivity, indicating denser regions at the center with larger particles. The right part shows the fall speed of cloud particles, with low values in the upper layer indicating suspended ice crystals and snowflakes, and higher values below indicating rain.

Both sections display a clear boundary at around 5 km altitude, where ice and snow melt into water droplets, falling as rain. The cloud profiling radar’s Doppler velocity capability measures the vertical motion speed of ice, snow, and rain particles, providing detailed data on particle density, distribution, and velocity, helping scientists understand cloud physics better.

This measurement is a first from space, offering unprecedented data. To contextualize these findings, the right image shows the same cloud system captured by Japan’s Himawari-9 meteorological satellite, with EarthCARE’s orbital track overlaid. EarthCARE’s radar captured data between the A and B markers in this image.

Conventional methods using ground-based or aircraft cloud radar are limited in area coverage, but EarthCARE’s cloud profiling radar measures cloud structure uniformly across the planet.

ESA’s Director for Earth Observation Programmes, Simonetta Cheli, commented, “This is a fantastic first result from our JAXA partners, and a true indication of what we can expect in the future when the satellite and all of its instruments are fully calibrated and commissioned.

“We now look forward to seeing the first results from EarthCARE’s other three instruments.

“The key to the mission is having all four instruments working together to give us a holistic understanding of the highly complex interactions between clouds, aerosols, incoming solar radiation and outgoing thermal radiation to help better predict future climate trends.”

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