The Aquarius mission was a Earth System Science Pathfinder small-satellite program mission by NASA. This type of mission performs a first-of-a-kind exploratory measurement that will help answer fundamental questions about how our planet works and how it may change in the future.
The innovative Aquarius satellite launched successfully from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on June 10, 2011 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. It is the first satellite mission specifically designed to provide monthly global measurements of how sea water salinity varies at the ocean surface, which is a key to studying the links between ocean circulation and global water cycles. Variations in ocean surface salinity are a key area of scientific uncertainty. Salinity variations modify the interaction between ocean circulation and the global water cycle, which in turn affects the ocean’s capacity to store and transport heat and regulate Earth’s climate. The Aquarius Mission seeks to determine how the ocean responds to the combined effects of evaporation, precipitation, ice melt and river runoff on seasonal and inter-annual time scales, and their impact on the global distribution and availability of fresh water. Sea surface salinity, along with sea surface temperature, determines the sea surface density. This controls the formation of water masses in the ocean and regulates the 3-dimensional ocean circulation. Recent technological advances have provided the ability to examine these processes using remote sensing tools via satellite, and will further understanding of how climate variations induce changes in the global ocean circulation and how our oceans respond to climate change and the water cycle.
More information about the Aquarius Mission can be found on the Aquarius SAC/D Mission Home Page. Download the Aquarius Education & Public Outreach Resources document for links to the iPhone App, Mission Overview and many other audio and visual educational resources for this important mission.