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Water & Energy Cycle

The Water and Energy Cycle Focus Area studies the distribution, transport and transformation of water and energy within the Earth System. Since solar energy drives the water cycle and energy exchanges are modulated by the interaction of water with radiation, the energy cycle and the water cycle are intimately entwined.

AMSR-E polar sea ice cover

The polar sea ice cover is very dynamic and is forced by winds and ocean currents. This image of the Arctic sea ice cover on March 1, 2003, obtained from the Aqua Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E), shows the combination of both temperature and the emissivity of sea ice at 89 GHz. Patterns of leads (linear openings in the sea ice) appear darker than the surrounding thick sea ice. Generally, these areas of thin ice have a higher temperature because of the warmer sea water below. The 89 GHz channel used in generating this image provides the highest spatial resolution of about 5 km. Even at this spatial resolution individual ice flows can be observed. The green, brown, and white areas over land indicate increasing elevation. The dark circle over the pole is an area that is beyond the field of view of the instrument. Credit: NASA GSFC, Alvaro Ivanoff.

The long-term goal of this focus area is to enable improved predictions of the global water and energy cycles. This key goal requires not only documenting and predicting means and trends in the rate of the Earth's water and energy cycling as well as predicting changes in the frequency and intensity of related meteorological and hydrologic events such as floods and droughts.

In the past decade NASA's water and energy research projects have yielded significant advances in our understanding of key Earth system science processes. For example, we have been able to improve rainfall quantification, as well as greatly improve hurricane prediction capability. However, many issues remain to be resolved. In the next decade this focus area will move us toward balancing the water budget at global and regional spatial scales, provide global observation capability of precipitation over the day's cycle and important land surface quantities such as soil moisture and snow quantity at mesoscale resolution. We are working on improving cloud-resolving models for use in climate models. We will gain knowledge of the major influences on variability in the water and energy cycles.