Earth is a complex, dynamic system we do not yet fully understand. The Earth system, like the human body, comprises diverse components that interact in complex ways. We need to understand the Earth's atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere as a single connected system. Our planet is changing on all spatial and temporal scales. The purpose of NASA's Earth science program is to develop a scientific understanding of Earth's system and its response to natural or human-induced changes, and to improve prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards.
This is a composite image of the North African Continent. A dust storm can be seen blowing off the coast of Morocco in the northwest corner.
Image: MODIS band combination 1,4,3.
A major component of NASA’s Earth Science Division is a coordinated series of satellite and airborne missions for long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. This coordinated approach enables an improved understanding of the Earth as an integrated system. NASA is completing the development and launch of a set of Foundational missions, new Decadal Survey missions, and Climate Continuity missions.
The Foundational missions are those missions in development at the time the decadal survey was published and include Aquarius, Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (S-NPP), Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM). The Decadal Survey missions are those guided by the decadal surveyproduced by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences and published in 2007. These missions include Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP), Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat-II), Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI), Active Sensing of CO2Emissions Over Nights, Days, and Seasons (ASCENDS), Surface Water and Topography (SWOT), Geostationary Coastal and Air Pollution Events (GEO-CAPE), and Aerosol-Clouds-Ecosystems (ACE). Earth Venture, also a recommendation of the decadal survey, consists of low cost, competed suborbital and orbital missions as well as instruments for Missions of Opportunity. The Climate Continuity missions include Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment – III (SAGE III), Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on (GRACE-FO), and Pre-Aerosol, Clouds, and Ocean Ecosystem (PACE).
Over the coming decades, NASA and the Agency's research partners will continue to pioneer the use of both spaceborne and aircraft measurements to characterize, understand, and predict variability and trends in Earth's system for both research and applications. Earth is the only planet we know to be capable of sustaining life. It is our lifeboat in the vast expanse of space. Over the past 50 years, world population has doubled, grain yields have tripled and economic output has grown sevenfold. Earth science research can ascertain whether and how the Earth can sustain this growth in the future. Also, over a third of the US economy - $3 trillion annually - is influenced by climate, weather, and natural hazards, providing economic incentive to study the Earth.
NASA Earth System Science conducts and sponsors research, collects new observations, develops technologies and extends science and technology education to learners of all ages. We work closely with our global partners in government, industry, and the public to enhance economic security, and environmental stewardship, benefiting society in many tangible ways. We conduct and sponsor research to answer fundamental science questions about the changes we see in climate, weather, and natural hazards, and deliver sound science that helps decision-makers make informed decisions. We inspire the next generation of explorers by providing opportunities for learners of all ages to investigate the Earth system using unique NASA resources, and our Earth System research is strengthening science, technology, engineering and mathematics education nationwide.