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The winds that swirl above the planet’s seas are packed with information. Scientists across the globe are using this wind information in studies as diverse as global weather patterns and seafood harvesting. Currently, information on sea winds is downlinked in the Interior at the Alaska Satellite Facility, a part of the Geophysical Institute.
In January, the Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF) became a member of NASA’s Quick Scatterometer Team, or QuikSCAT, and now receives information from a small satellite that orbits 500 miles above Earth’s surface. The data has a variety of applications and Nettie LaBelle-Hamer, ASF director, believes this will help boost the facility’s customer base.
"The observations are used to study the movement of oil spills, weather forecasting, storm detecting, the routes ships take and more," LaBelle-Hamer said. "For us, QuikSCAT comes at a good time. We’d like to increase the number of customers we have."
The secret of QuikSCAT’s data comes from the satellite’s on-board scatterometer. This radar instrument sends high-frequency microwave pulses to the ocean surface and then measures the backscattered, or echoed, pulses that bounce back to the satellite. The method is quick and effective, spanning a band more than 1,000 miles wide. NASA estimates the scatterometer makes 400,000 measurements each day, covering 90 percent of Earth’s surface.
ASF’s initial involvement with QuikSCAT and its data kept roughly 10 ASF engineers busy making hardware and software changes to accomplish a seamless transition within a two-month period. LaBelle-Hamer said the amount of time allotted for conversion was minimal, but staff stepped up to the challenge. Now QuikSCAT data is flowing freely back to the Operations Center at the Geophysical Institute and is monitored daily by ASF operators.
ASF’s quick adaptation to monitor QuikSCAT and distribute its data also will strengthen relations between the facility and NASA, according to LaBelle-Hamer. She says the efficiency and reliability of ASF work won’t go unnoticed when NASA needs assistance with future projects.
The Alaska Satellite Facility acquires, processes, archives and distributes satellite data for the U.S. government and research communities. ASF is a part of the Geophysical Institute’s major focus on Earth remote sensing.
For more information on QuikSCAT history: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov
Nettie LaBelle-Hamer, Alaska Satellite Facility director, (907) 474-6167.
Amy Hartley, Geophysical Institute information officer, (907) 474-5823.