NOAA Environmental Technology Laboratory (ETL) Optical Remote Sensing Division
TEA CO2 during TexAQS 2000
TEA CO2 during TexAQS 2000

The Optical Remote Sensing Division (formerly the Advanced Technique Development Division) of ETL aims to develop and apply new atmospheric remote sensing technology and techniques that will enhance NOAA's operational and research missions. The division strives to demonstrate applicability and benefits of new observations for current and envisioned NOAA core areas, including short term and medium range weather forecasting, regional air quality prediction, marine fisheries, and climate and global change research. It is composed of five research groups oriented toward both new technique development as well as demonstration and application of the novel remote sensing methodologies developed within the division. The blending of instrumentalists and scientists is critical to success, ensuring that state of the art observing systems are applied to relevant and important problems.

Optical Remote Sensing research is focused on issues critical to NOAA's mission including:

Air Quality

Good air quality is fundamental to our health and the health of the environment. To form a complete understanding of this complex issue for better regulation and management, a generation of instruments has been developed and fielded to study the regional dynamics which influence air quality. Research provides instrumentation and field studies to investigate regional issues, contributes to a sound scientific basis for policy and management of air resources, and develops future monitoring and forecasting tools.

Clouds, Aerosols, and Climate

The formation and dynamics of clouds constitute one of nature's most complex and vital processes. Clouds differ dramatically in their reflection and absorption of sunlight and their ability to retain heat, influencing the climate of the planet. Aerosols (fine particles such as dust or pollutants) serve as seeds to form clouds, affect cloud properties, and influence the chemistry of air quality. Clouds formed over the oceans provide a critical link in the global water cycle, bringing both essential rain and extreme storms. A better understanding of clouds is critical to a better understanding of the global climate and water cycle.

Boundary Layer Processes

The atmospheric boundary layer is the lowest 2 km (or 1.5 miles) of the troposphere, the layer closest to the earth's surface, and the atmosphere in which we live. The boundary layer interacts with the earth's surface and oceans, creating weather, exchanging energy and gases with the oceans and forests, and influencing the flow and mixing of pollutants. The dynamics of the boundary layer impact a range of human systems, including air quality, agriculture, transportation, air safety and wind energy generation.

Water Vapor

Water vapor is the gaseous form of water and an important component of the atmosphere. Water enters the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration from the ocean and land surfaces and travels on the winds as water vapor. When water vapor reaches a region of the correct temperature, pressure and density, it condenses into rain, snow or hail and is deposited back onto the surface, completing the water cycle. This process requires a great transfer of energy, most dramatically seen through the power of a hurricane or thunderstorm. Water vapor also acts as a greenhouse gas. Measuring and tracking water vapor is important to both short term weather forecasting and warnings as well as long term climate monitoring and modeling.

Marine Ecology

"How many fish are there?" is an important question in managing fisheries and sustaining healthy coastal environments. Traditional methods of answering this question are limited in the area they can cover, the accuracy of the count and the frequency with which they can be surveyed, given the expense. In cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Optical Remote Sensing is developing an airborne lidar for fisheries surveys (FLOE) which can address some of these survey constraints, make more accurate fisheries assessments and improve the management of fisheries and coastal resources.