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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

Ocean Surface Topography

Orbiting spacecrafts make highly accurate measurements of the height of the ocean surface - commonly called 'sea level' - to gather long-term information about the world's ocean and its currents. These measurements provide information about the topography of the ocean’s surface, which is used to study weather, climate, and other dynamic ocean phenomena. Ocean surface topography data also have many other applications, such as in fisheries management, navigation and offshore operations.

Decadal Survey

NASA relies on the science community to identify and prioritize leading-edge scientific questions and the observations required to answer them. One principal means by which NASA’s Science Mission Directorate engages the science community in this task is through the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC conducts studies that provide a science community consensus on key questions posed by NASA and other U.S. Government agencies. The broadest of these studies in NASA’s areas of research are decadal surveys.


The Earth Systematic Missions (ESM) Program includes a broad range of multi-disciplinary science investigations aimed at developing a scientific understanding of the Earth system and its response to natural and human-induced forces. Understanding these forces will help in determining how to mitigate them, appropriately and where possible, to avoid climate changes.


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