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What We Study

Our planet is changing on all spatial and temporal scales and studying the Earth as a complex system is essential in understanding the causes and consequences of climate change and other global environmental concerns.

Science Questions

NASA’s ability to observe global change on regional scales and conduct research on the causes and consequences of change position it to address the Agency strategic objective for Earth science, which is to advance knowledge of Earth as a system to meet the challenges of environmental change, and to improve life on our planet.


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.

Climate Variability and Change

Climate change can have tremendous consequences for the lives and livelihoods of individuals as well as for entire civilizations. While favorable climate is believed to have facilitated the "cradle of civilization" that sprang from the fertile lands of Mesopotamia, past climate change has displaced or even eliminated cultures and societies. One of the most notable displaced the Vikings, who in the late twelfth century abandoned villages and towns in Greenland and Iceland after temperatures cooled by only a few degrees centigrade.

Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems

Environmental change and human activities alter Earth's ecosystems and the biogeochemical cycles that are critical to the habitability of our planet. In addition to providing habitat and natural resources while nurturing crucial biodiversity, ecosystems interact with numerous geochemical and physical systems to maintain the global carbon cycle and its control over changes in atmospheric CO2 and CH4 and thus climate.

Atmospheric Composition

Atmospheric composition determines air quality and affects weather, climate, and critical constituents such as ozone. Exchanges with the atmosphere link terrestrial and oceanic pools within the carbon cycle and other biogeochemical cycles. Solar radiation affects atmospheric chemistry and is thus a critical factor in atmospheric composition.

2005 Earth Science Focus Area Roadmaps

NASA works with the science community to identify questions on the frontiers of science that have profound societal importance, and to which NASA can make a defining contribution. These science questions become the foundation of a research strategy, which defines requirements for scientific observations, and a roadmap for combining the technology, observations, modeling efforts, basic research, and partnerships needed to answer the questions over time.

The Dynamic Pacific Ocean

El Nino 1997


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