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Aquarius mission graphic

Phase: Operating

Launch Date: June 10, 2011

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Program(s):Earth System Science Pathfinder

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Aquarius is a focused satellite mission to measure global sea surface salinity (SSS). Its instruments measure changes in SSS equivalent to about a "pinch" (i.e., 1/6 of a teaspoon) of salt in 1 gallon of water. By measuring SSS over the globe with such unprecedented precision, Aquarius answers long-standing questions about how our oceans respond to climate change and the water cycle. For example, monthly SSS maps give clues about changes in freshwater input and output to the ocean associated with precipitation, evaporation, ice melting, and river runoff. Aquarius data is also used to track the formation and movement of huge water masses that regulate ocean circulation and Earth's climate.

The mission is led by principal investigator Dr. Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research. Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) built and calibrated the highly accurate radiometers that are crucial for the detection of ocean salinity. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) designed and built the scatterometer that helps to minimize measurement errors due to sea surface roughness. JPL managed the mission until launch when GSFC assumed duty. Data processing, dissemination, and archiving tasks will be shared between GSFC and JPL.

NASA partnered with the Argentine space program CONAE on the Aquarius mission, building on a successful long-standing relationship between NASA and Argentina. Multiple universities, and corporate and international partners were involved in the Aquarius mission.

Aquarius is named after the Water Bearer constellation because of its objective to explore the role of the water cycle in ocean circulation and climate. Aquarius launched in June of 2011 and is orbiting the Earth for at least three years, repeating its global pattern every 7 days. Within two months, Aquarius collected as many sea surface salinity measurements as the entire 125-year historical record from ships and buoys, and provided measurements over the 25 percent of the ocean where no previous observations had been made.