Aquarius studies Ocean and Wind Flows

  • Released Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Aquarius is a focused satellite mission to measure global Sea Surface Salinity. During its nominal three-year mission, Aquarius will map the salinity at the ocean surface to improve our understanding of Earth's water cycle and ocean circulation. Aquarius will help scientists see how freshwater moves between the ocean and the atmosphere. It will monitor changes in the water cycle due to rainfall, evaporation, ice melting, and river runoff. Aquarius will also demonstrate a measurement capability that can be applied to future operational missions. Ocean circulation is driven in large part by changes in water density, which is determined by temperature and salinity. Cold, high-salinity water masses sink and trigger the ocean's "themalhaline circulation" - the surface and deep currents that distribute solar energy to regulate Earth's climate. By measuring salinity, Aquarius will provide new insight into this global process.

Aquarius' measurements of ocean salinity will provide a new perspective on the ocean and its links to climate, greatly expanding upon limited past measurements. Aquarius salinity data - combined with data from other sensors that measure sea level, ocean color, temperature, winds and rainfall will give us a much clearer picture of how the ocean works, how it is linked to climate, and how it may respond to climate change.

Aquarius will provide information that will help improve predictions of future climate trends and short-term climate events such as El Niño and La Niña. Precise salinity measurements from Aquarius will reveal changes in patterns of global precipitation and evaporation and show how these changes may affect ocean circulation.

This animation shows the large-scale ocean currents. Here, surface flows are shown in bright turquois color, while deep ocean currents are shown as dark navy blue. Surface currents have been found to sink in the circular region just north of Iceland and in the current to the south and southwest of Greenland.

This visualization shows the combined U and V components of wind from August 24 through Deptember 30, 2005 at four different pressure levels: 1000mb, 850 mb, 500 mb, and 300 mb from NASA's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office's (GMAO- Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) data product.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
The Blue Marble Next Generation data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC) and NASA's Earth Observatory.

Release date

This page was originally published on Tuesday, May 10, 2011.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:53 PM EDT.


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