Explore Earth Science

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future.

Men looking at giant screen

From its origins, NASA has studied our planet in novel ways, using a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based campaigns to study physical processes at work—from beneath the crust to the edge of the atmosphere. We look at Earth in macrocosm and microcosm, from the flow of one mountain stream to the flow of jet streams. Most of all, we look at Earth as a system, examining the cycles and processes—the water cycle, the carbon cycle, ocean circulation, the movement of heat—that interact and influence each other in a complex, dynamic dance across seasons and decades.

Why Does NASA Study Earth?

NASA is designing a new set of Earth-focused missions to provide key information to guide efforts related to climate change, natural hazard mitigation, fighting forest fires, and improving real-time agricultural processes.

Each uniquely designed satellite in the Earth System Observatory will complement the others, working in tandem to create a 3D, holistic view of Earth, from bedrock to atmosphere.

NASA's Earth System Observatory

Addressing, Mitigating Climate Change

Sea Level Rise

Sea level around the world has been rising for reasons both natural and human-caused.

Photo of flood waters submerging highway road signs

Rising Waters

With satellites, airborne missions, shipboard measurements, and supercomputers, NASA has been investigating sea level rise for decades.

Simulated view of ICESat-2 scanning the front of an ice sheet.

Taking a Measure of Sea Level Rise

Sea level around the world has been rising for reasons both natural and human-caused. This series of articles explores how NASA and other science institutions measure and monitor these changes.

This visualization shows total sea level change between 1992 and 2019, with orange/red regions indicating where sea levels are rising.

Understanding Sea Level  

NASA keeps track of sea level change and its causes from space. Find out more about how NASA satellite observations help our understanding of this complex topic.

Phytoplankton

They’re small, but they’re mighty. From producing oxygen we breathe to soaking up carbon we emit to feeding fish we eat, tiny phytoplankton are a crucial part of ocean ecosystems and essential to life as we know it on Earth.

Large green blooms of phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Image from Landsat 7.

NASA Wants to Identify Phytoplankton Species from Space. Here’s Why.

To give us a new view of these extraordinary aquatic organisms, NASA is launching a satellite in early 2024.

Five types of phytoplankton: cyanobacteria, diatom, dinoflagellate, green algae, coccolithophore.

What are Phytoplankton?

Microscopic plant-like organisms called phytoplankton are the base of the marine food web, and they play a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the air.

Satellite natural-color image of phytoplankton in the water

Images and stories of phytoplankton

Our oceans support phytoplankton blooms around the globe.

SWOT

active Mission
Learn More

Our Satellite Fleet

In order to study the Earth as a whole system and understand how it is changing, NASA develops and supports a large number of Earth observing missions. These missions provide Earth science researchers the necessary data to address key questions about global climate change. Missions begin with a study phase during which the key science objectives of the mission are identified, and designs for spacecraft and instruments are analyzed. Following a successful study phase, missions enter a development phase whereby all aspects of the mission are developed and tested to insure it meets the mission objectives. Operating missions are those missions that are currently active and providing science data to researchers. Operating missions may be in their primary operational phase or in an extended operational phase. Missions begin with a study phase during which the key science objectives of the mission are identified, and designs for spacecraft and instruments are analyzed. Following a successful study phase, missions enter a development phase whereby all aspects of the mission are developed and tested to insure it meets the mission objectives.

NASA's Earth observing satellite fleet (as of March 13, 2024)
NASA's Earth observing satellite fleet (as of March 13, 2024)