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NASA Sets the PACE for Advanced Studies of Earth's Ocean and Atmosphere
PACE's advanced technologies will provide unprecedented insight into Earth's ocean and atmosphere, which impact our everyday lives by regulating climate and making our planet habitable. Our oceans teem with life, supporting many of Earth's economies. New discoveries in Earth's living ocean will be revealed with PACE's global observations, such as the diversity of organisms fueling marine food webs and how ecosystems respond to environmental change. PACE will observe our atmosphere to study clouds along with the tiny airborne particles known as aerosols. Looking at the ocean, clouds, and aerosols together will improve our knowledge of the roles each plays in our changing planet.

PACE's data will reveal interactions between the ocean and atmosphere, including how they exchange carbon dioxide and how atmospheric aerosols might fuel phytoplankton growth in the surface ocean. Novel uses of PACE data – from identifying the extent and duration of harmful algal blooms to improving our understanding of air quality – will result in direct economic and societal benefits. By extending and expanding NASA's long record of satellite observations of our living planet, we will take Earth's pulse in new ways for decades to come.

Why Do We Need PACE?

Our ocean is teeming with life and many of its most vital species are invisible to us.

Like on land, the ocean has deserts, forests, meadows, and jungles that provide homes for grazers, predators, scavengers and plants. This diversity of ecosystems is determined by microscopic oceanic vegetation – phytoplankton. These tiny plant-like organisms come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Phytoplankton diversity determines their role in oceanic ecosystems and their success in capturing energy from the sun and carbon from the atmosphere.

Carbon cycle
Small particles suspended in the atmosphere (aerosols) and clouds are the largest sources of uncertainty in our understanding of how much sunlight is being reflected and absorbed by the Earth and its atmosphere. Complex interactions between clouds and aerosols in which cloud drops form on aerosols and aerosols are themselves washed out of the air by rain are not well understood. Adding complication, many different types of aerosols — for example, smoke, dust, salt and sulfate — absorb and reflect different fractions of sunlight. Clouds, aerosol types and their interactions vary substantially both geographically and with time. Thus, only global Earth-observing satellite measurements can capture a complete and accurate picture of how much energy from the sun our home planet is absorbing. PACE will continue and expand NASA's global cloud and aerosol observations in order to better understand their role in controlling our climate.

Carbon cycle
Carbon exists in forms that range from invisible gases to diamonds to the organic matter that forms all living organisms. In the ocean, a system of physical and biological processes drives transitions between forms of carbon, which ultimately supports life on this planet and regulates our livable environment. Through photosynthesis, marine phytoplankton convert carbon dioxide gas into organic cellular material that supplies food and energy to all life forms within the food web. Through other mechanisms within this web, carbon can also adopt other forms; for example, it can be returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide through respiration or sink deep into the ocean as non-living particles.

The PACE mission will provide a combination of global atmospheric and oceanic observations to benefit society in the areas of water resources, impact of disasters, ecological forecasting, human health, and air quality.

PACE Applications will partner with public and private organizations on ways to apply data from PACE and its scientific findings in their decision-making activities and services, helping to improve the quality of life and strengthen the economy.

Understanding Earth Together e-brochure

The U.S. ocean economy contributes over $350B to the GDP (2014) and supports more than 3.1 million jobs (one in 45). Currently, this ocean economy, including the Great Lakes, is growing faster than the total U.S. economy in both contributions to inflation-adjusted GDP (15.6% since 2007 compared to 5.8%) and jobs (8.1% compared to flat).

PACE will be the first mission to provide measurements that enable prediction of the boom-bust of fisheries, the appearance of harmful algae, and other factors that affect commercial and recreational industries. While current satellites provide essential tools for monitoring the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes, they cannot effectively be used to evaluate changes to fisheries or identify harmful algae. Without PACE, we will continue to be blind to the impacts of diversity changes in our marine resources.

Question mark
  • How is Earth changing and what are the consequences for our living resources and food webs, such as phytoplankton and plankton?
  • What is the concentration and composition of organisms in our ocean ecosystems? How productive are our ocean ecosystems?
  • What are the long-term changes in aerosol and cloud properties that can be continued to be revealed with PACE? How are these properties correlated with variations in climate?
  • How are biological, geological, and chemical components of our ocean changing and why? How might such changes influence the Earth system?
  • What materials are exchanged between the land and ocean? How do these exchanges affect life on our coasts?
  • How do tiny airborne particles and liquids – known as "aerosols" – influence ocean ecosystems and cycling of matter in our ocean?
  • Conversely, how do ocean processes affect our atmosphere?
  • How does our ocean's environment – and motion – affect its ecosystems and vice versa?
  • What is the distribution of both harmful and beneficial algal blooms? How are these blooms related to environmental forces?
  • How do changes in critical ocean ecosystem services affect people's health and welfare? How do human activities affect ocean ecosystems and services?


PACE will be NASA's most advanced global ocean color and aerosol mission to date

PACE will add to climate data records while unveiling new insights on life in our ocean

PACE will add value to our everyday lives (e.g., Harmful Algal Bloom forecasts)
Field Campaigns

Ship and airborne studies being conducted worldwide are setting the stage for PACE

Learn More
Download brochure
Download "Little Bits" activity
Explore what PACE will see

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NASA studies the ocean and its role supporting life on Earth, providing ocean color, sea surface temperature and sea surface salinity data and images.


Your planet is changing, and we're on it. NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of Earth and improve lives.