'Aqua' to Revolutionize Climate Predictions
By Mario Osava*
The Brazilian probe incorporated into the Aqua satellite will allow predictions of rains and drought for South America with 90 percent accuracy.
RIO DE JANEIRO - The Humidity Sounder of Brazil (HSB), one of the devices incorporated onto the Aqua satellite that is orbiting the Earth at a distance of 705 km as part of a U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will provide vital meteorological information for South America.
As of August, the HSB will emit data twice daily and provide an outline of the atmospheric conditions, measuring the temperature every km and humidity every two km, allowing experts to identify the factors affecting the Earth's climate.
The data is to be processed at the station located in Cuiabá, capital of the western state of Mato Grosso, because it is the geographic center of South America, Carlos Eduardo Santana, director of projects at the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), told Tierramérica.
The satellite, still in its adjustment period, began to send the first images of oceans and seas in July, after it began orbiting on May 4. Its six-year mission is to monitor the planet's global water cycle.
The probability of making accurate weather predictions in Brazil was 65 percent a decade ago, and now reaches 75 to 80 percent, but with Aqua, accuracy should reach 90 percent, said Santana.
The HSB information is crucial for the tropical regions, where large fluctuations in humidity make it difficult to predict meteorological conditions, according to the AEB official.
Although a profile of the climate could be obtained through radio-sounders on aerostatic balloons, it would be impossible to cover the entire Brazilian territory, due to the number of devices and human resources required. Furthermore, there are areas where access would be difficult to maintain such equipment, such as in the Amazon, Santana said.
It would be impossible to carry out extensive climate studies without satellite, particularly in the southern hemisphere, where water covers a much greater portion of the Earth than in the north, says State University of Sao Paulo researcher Roberto Vicente Calheiros, who is participating in the project alongside the AEB and the National Space Research Institute (INPE).
The HSB represents "a revolution" for the meteorological services and its technology opens the door for important economic innovations, such as remote humidity detectors in pipelines or granaries, or instruments to monitor the conditions of aircraft engines at the moment of takeoff, Calheiros pointed out.
This technology could also be applied in the medical field, for example, in the study of the effects of microwaves on the human body.
Other South American countries can obtain access to the information provided by the HSB through cooperative efforts, in exchange for some improvement of the system, said Santana.
Brazil does not have the capital, technology or human resources to build and maintain a satellite that costs a billion dollars, Santana said, by way of explaining NASA's role in the project.
The AEB signed an agreement with NASA in 1996 to include the Brazilian device on the Aqua satellite.
The HSB itself cost 11 million dollars and was manufactured by the British firm Astrium and by Brazil's Equatorial Systems, under the coordination of INPE.
Aqua is carrying another five instruments used for measuring humidity and evaporation, volume of water masses, thickness of ice and snow caps, and other parameters involved in climate studies.
Aqua is the second of three satellite of the Earth Observing System, a NASA program aimed at determining the factors behind global climate change. The first, Terra, was placed in orbit in 1999, and the third, Aura, will be launched in January 2004.
* Mario Osava is an IPS correspondent.