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.
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.
As defined by the President's Panel on Ocean Exploration (NOAA, 2000), exploration is discovery through disciplined, diverse observations and the recording of findings. Exploration is an early component of the research process; it focuses on new areas of inquiry and develops descriptions of phenomena that inform the direction of further study.
At NASA we believe we have reached the "Golden Age" of oceanography. For the first time in history, citizens of planet Earth have access to decades of information about the Earth's largest system: the oceans. As a lead technology agency NASA has led the way in collecting these data.