Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity and the dynamics of Earth’s atmosphere is ever-changing. A new pan-Canadian collaboration will measure aerosols, water vapour and clouds and how they interact to impact Earth’s weather and climate as part of NASA’s Atmosphere Observing System (AOS) mission.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will collaborate with NASA on AOS with its High-altitude Aerosols, Water vapour and Clouds (HAWC) mission.
The mission consists of two Canadian instruments on a Canadian satellite and a third instrument on a NASA satellite, all planned for launch in 2031. These innovative instruments will provide critical measurements, enabling Canadian climate scientists and weather forecasters to better understand and predict extreme events like severe storms, floods, droughts and poor air quality conditions.
For many satellite missions such as HAWC, the value of the measurements is greatly increased by combining satellite measurements with sensors on the surface.
Western is well-positioned to support this mission as it is home to the Canadian Micro-Pulse Lidar Network (MPLCAN) which collects measurements of aerosol and cloud properties 24 hours a day. Lidar, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote-sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure height profiles of water and ice clouds, as well as pollutants in Earth’s atmosphere.
“The services to the public we can provide and science we can do with these measurements are increased by the combination of the satellites’ high-resolution measurements along its track and measurements made at fixed locations on the surface,” said Robert (Bob) Sica, a physics and astronomy professor and MPLCAN project lead.
Canadian collaborators in the HAWC mission include the CSA, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the National Research Council of Canada and 13 universities, including Western.
“HAWC is more than a science mission; it promises to provide new services to improve our predictions of weather and future climate change, as well as alerting the public to extreme weather events. The combination of the HAWC and MPLCAN measurements, and their real-time inclusion into forecast models will improve our predictive abilities, particularly regarding severe weather, such as wildfires, flooding and tornados,” said Sica, a faculty member at Western’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space).
François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced on October 18 that Canada will contribute more than $200 million to this major multi-satellite mission. Currently slated to launch in 2028 and 2031, AOS will improve extreme weather prediction, climate modelling and monitoring of disasters.
“Canada has always played a key role in international space programs, helping to find solutions to global challenges. Today’s more than $200 million announcement builds on those successes with our participation in NASA’s AOS program. It also speaks to our commitment to harnessing science and research to address climate change, natural disasters and other issues that are important to Canadians,” said Philippe-Champagne.
Western Space director Sarah Gallager was involved in developing this collaboration when she served as advisor to the executive of CSA on issues related to science, science policy, and capacity development in the space sector.
“NASA sought out expertise from Canadian scientists and industry to contribute to AOS,” said Gallagher. “This is a testament to the quality of our atmospheric science community, and I am so proud that this community includes fantastic researchers at Western. ”