Advances in lidar technologies provide a wide range of opportunities for new atmospheric measurement capabilities. In addition to the lidar technologies being developed for the Ice, Clouds, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and CALIPSO missions within the United States, the Atmospheric Laser Doppler Instrument (ALADIN), aboard the European Atmospheric Dynamics Mission, promises to advance the use of lidar for measuring tropospheric winds. Differential absorption lidar (DIAL) can enable the next advance, after that being achieved with high-resolution infrared spectrometers, for the profiling of water vapor as well as temperature. The use of passive microwave imaging sounders from geostationary orbit offers a promising new measurement capability. As with polar-orbiting systems, microwave sounders on geostationary satellites would complement existing infrared sounding sensors to provide temperature and moisture profiles through clouds and measurements of cloud liquid water and convective precipitation.
As a result of the rapid advances in sensor, data processing, and communications technologies, the future is bright for space-based observing systems. New and improved sensors flown in a constellation of satellites in a variety of orbits will produce several terabytes of data per day. These data will be assimilated in numerical models—producing global analyses of the atmosphere, ocean, land surfaces, and cryosphere—advancing progress toward the Earth Information System.
Communications and computing capacity are increasing at a rate that will accommodate this explosion of data. Emerging new information technologies, including new visualization tools, will be employed to enable effective human interpretation and use of the information. While it is an enormous task and challenge to assimilate the wealth of data to come from future satellite systems, the efficient conversion of these data into usable information remains the key for unlocking the still-unresolved mysteries of Earth’s environment and, ultimately, enabling its accurate prediction.
The combination of new measurement technologies, enhancements in supporting infrastructure, and advances in data processing and assimilation provides the technological “push” for transitions. Existing programs within NASA and other agencies provide a rich but readily understood source of these opportunities. Achieving the vision of the Earth Information System requires efficient and effective processes for transitioning these coming technologies and capabilities into operational use.