Apr 22, 2013

Taking Two Bites At Ocean Salinity

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(22 April 2013) The saltiness of the oceans is being closely monitored from space by both ESA’s SMOS and NASA’s Aquarius missions, but in slightly different ways.

By joining forces, researchers are exploiting these complementary missions to benefit climate science even further.

Everyone knows that seawater is salty, but it isn’t that obvious that the concentration of salt – the salinity – of the surface waters of the world’s oceans varies considerably with location and season.

Salinity is controlled largely by the balance between evaporation and precipitation, so it is an important component of Earth’s water cycle and closely coupled to weather and climate. It is also an important driver in ocean circulation, which in turn, is crucial in moderating the climate.

In fact, ocean salinity is an ‘essential climate variable’ – a key parameter of climate change.

Until the launch of SMOS in 2009 and Aquarius in 2011, global data on this important variable were simply not available. Scientists need this information to feed into the mathematical models they use to understand the complexities of the exchange processes between Earth’s surfaces and the atmosphere.

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