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Tristan S. L’Ecuyer

Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison

A Quest to Fill a Startling Gap in Observing Arctic Climate

Room 811 AOSS, February 22, 2017, 2:30 PM


Far-infrared radiation (that occurring at wavelengths longer than 15 microns) makes up 60% of the thermal emission from the Arctic and nearly half of Earth's emission, globally. Remarkably, however, while far-infrared spectra have been collected from every planet in the solar system, Earth's far-infrared emission spectrum has never been systematically documented. These measurements could offer powerful new insights into the key processes at work in the rapidly changing Arctic. This presentation will describe a new satellite mission concept aimed at addressing this critical observational gap. The Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfaRed Experiment (PREFIRE) utilizes two CubeSats in asynchronous orbits to systematically document the spectral variation of thermal emission across the mid- and far-infrared (5 - 45 microns) throughout the Arctic. We anticipate that the resulting measurements will reveal changes in the full spectrum of Arctic radiant energy associated with processes that operate on scales ranging from sub-daily to seasonal. By distinguishing the unique spectral fingerprints of changes in temperature, water vapor, clouds, and surface melt processes, PREFIRE will help untangle the complex time-varying errors in model physics responsible for the large spread in simulations of the Arctic energy budget. I'll also share a few stories about the process of writing a mission proposal with JPL. Despite what you might think, it was no piece of cake!

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