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Ball-Built CALIPSO Continues to Unlock Mysteries of Our Oceans

NASA Reports CALIPSO Instruments are Determining Peak and Decline of Phytoplankton in World’s Oceans


By Bill Rigler
The Ball-built Cloud-Aerosol LIdar with Orthogonal Polarization instrument on the CALIPSO satellite uses a laser to take measurements of polar plankton. Credits: NASA/Timothy Marvel.NASA recently announced that CALIPSO has “found that small, environmental changes in polar food webs significantly influence the boom-and-bust, or peak and decline, cycles of phytoplankton. These findings will supply important data for ecosystem management, commercial fisheries and our understanding of the interactions between Earth’s climate and key ocean ecosystems.”

CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol LIDAR and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations) is a mission dedicated to studying how clouds and aerosols impact the Earth’s climate. Scientists are using data from CALIPSO to construct 3D models of the atmosphere.

Ball Aerospace built CALIPSO’s light detection and ranging, or LIDAR, and wide-field camera instruments, the communications equipment, and integrated the payload.  The LIDAR scans the atmosphere with green and infrared laser light and detects backscatter from clouds and aerosols. The wide-field visible light camera and a three-color infrared imaging radiometer are part of the payload system and record additional information about clouds and aerosols.

Originally designed for a program life of three years, CALIPSO has traveled more than 1.2 billion miles, orbited the Earth 42,900 times, and has produced more than 92 terabytes of data in ten years on orbit. The CALIPSO LIDAR instrument registered firing over three billion laser shots on its redundant laser. The primary laser fired 1.6 billion shots before it was shut down. More than 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers have been written based on CALIPSO data.