NASA Earth Science

  • Released Friday, September 13th, 2019
  • Updated Tuesday, September 12th, 2023 at 10:24PM


NASA’s Earth Science Division (ESD) missions help us to understand our planet’s interconnected systems, from a global scale down to minute processes. Working in concert with a satellite network of international partners, ESD can measure precipitation around the world, and it can employ its own constellation of small satellites to look into the eye of a hurricane. ESD technology can track dust storms across continents and mosquito habitats across cities.

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Atmospheric Composition

The Atmospheric Composition focus area (AC) studies the variations in and processes that affect aerosols, clouds, and trace gases, which influence climate, weather, and air quality. AC provides observations and modeling tools to assess the effects of climate change on ozone recovery and future atmospheric composition; improve climate forecasts based on fluctuations in global environmental change; and model past, present, and future air quality, both regionally and globally. This research, combined with observations, data assimilation, and modeling, improves society’s ability to predict how future changes in atmospheric composition will affect climate, weather, and air quality.

Weather and Atmospheric Dynamics

The Weather and Atmospheric Dynamics focus area (WAD) supports research to obtain accurate measurements of the atmosphere that help improve short-term, subseasonal, and seasonal weather predictions at local, regional, and global scales. Weather includes everything from localized microphysical processes that occur in minutes, to global-scale phenomena that can occur for an entire season. WAD helps improve our knowledge of the fundamental processes that drive these systems and inform the operational infrastructure upon which other federal agencies rely, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Department of Defense (DOD). WAD further supports research into profiling winds, temperature, humidity, pressure, and aerosols; air-sea and land-atmosphere interactions; and lightning occurrences.

Climate Variability and Change

The Climate Variability and Change focus area (CVC) supports research to better understand the overall state of Earth’s climate and the physical processes that affect it. CVC supports focused and interdisciplinary research to better describe, understand, and predict the ways in which Earth’s ocean, atmosphere, land, and ice will interact and influence Earth’s climate over a wide range of timescales. To do this, CVC supports the development of climate data sets and computer models that leverage observations from relevant NASA and non-NASA platforms, including satellites, aircraft, and ships. These datasets include observations of sea surface height, temperature, and salinity; ocean currents and vector winds; sea ice extent and thickness; glacial topography, motion, and mass change; aerosol and cloud processes that affect Earth’s energy balance; and more. Through this work, CVC hopes to better predict changes in the Earth’s climate from sub-seasonal to multi-decadal time scales.

Water and Energy Cycle

The Water and Energy Cycle focus area (WEC) works to define, quantify, and model the different components of the water cycle that take place on land, including precipitation, snow, soil moisture, surface water and groundwater, and their interactions with other Earth systems. This research helps improve our understanding of how much water exists on Earth, how it’s changing over time, and what quality it’s in. It also helps us understand the energy that is transferred when water moves around the Earth and changes phase from liquid water to water vapor to snow. WEC uses observations from satellites and aircraft to help inform this research, and they partner with other Research and Analysis Program focus areas on crosscutting topics like ocean dynamics and cloud formation.

Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems

The Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems focus area (CCE) supports interdisciplinary research initiatives into Earth’s ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles, including how carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients are stored and cycled throughout the environment. CCE uses satellite remote sensing instruments, field campaigns, laboratory studies, and modeling to improve our understanding of how terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems around the world, such as forests, jungles, deserts, oceans, coasts, and polar environments, are changing over time. CCE also studies how changes in these ecosystems may affect how the planet stores nutrients like carbon and nitrogen in the future. Resolving these uncertainties will help us understand fluctuations in Earth’s climate and have major implications for biodiversity and sustainable resource management.

Earth Surface and Interior

The Earth Surface and Interior focus area (ESI) supports innovative, cross-cutting research into solid Earth processes and properties. ESI uses NASA’s unique global observations to better understand the Earth from its inner core to its outer lithospheric crust, as well as the dynamics between these component parts and the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean. This research provides the foundational data, measurements, and observations that help us understand Earth’s shape, motion, and magnetism, as well as the basis for products needed to inform the assessment, mitigation, and forecasting of natural hazards like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, and more.