Clouds play an important role in weather and climate on local to global scales. Clouds reflect sunlight and trap heat, affecting the Earth’s heat budget. The release of latent heat energy through the formation of clouds and precipitation is an important heat source for the atmosphere, affecting the large-scale circulations of the atmosphere.
The circulation of the atmosphere is affected by the horizontal, vertical, and temporal distribution of atmospheric constituents such as water vapor, aerosols, clouds, precipitation, and latent heat released by cloud formation. Improving our ability to predict weather and climate depends upon accurate representation of these constituents in the vertical dimension. However, the depth and turbulence of the atmosphere make observing gases and microscopic particles in the vertical dimension, i.e., profiling, particularly challenging.
Advances in our understanding of global hydrological processes will require detailed precipitation estimates on a broad range of time and space scales. Satellite observations provide a critical contribution toward mapping global rainfall and its variability. Over long time periods, monthly records of precipitation will prove valuable in determining global and regional precipitation trends and possibly separating anthropogenic changes from the large natural variations in rainfall.
Sophisticated display technology is required to analyze and understand the massive quantities of meteorological data being produced by satellite and other data collection systems, and from simulations from 3-dimensional models. As part of NASA's public out reach activities, the availability of such data sets via the Internet and World Wide Web is being expanded. This section describes the role of staff in this regard.