a photo showing layers of colors of the earth's atmosphere
STRIVE proposes to launch a satellite that takes a sideways view of Earth’s atmosphere, at what is sometimes called “Earth’s limb.” This photo of Earth’s limb was taken Feb. 12, 2020, from the International Space Station.

A project led by the University of Washington to better understand our atmosphere’s complexity is a finalist for NASA’s next generation of Earth-observing satellites. The space agency this week announced the projects that will each receive $5 million to advance to the next stage and conduct a one-year concept study.

STRIVE seeks to better understand the troposphere that we inhabit and the stratosphere above it, where the ozone layer is, as well as the interface where these two layers meet. That interface, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above the surface, is where important atmospheric chemistry, circulation and climate processes occur.

In addition to STRIVE, two other teams among the finalists also include researchers from the UW.

The four teams that reached the proof-of-concept stage will spend the next year refining their proposals. NASA will then review the concept study reports and select two for implementation. Projects that reach the final stage will have a budget of up to $310 million to build the instruments, which NASA will launch into orbit in 2030 or 2032. The satellites are expected to have an initial working life of two to three years.

Lyatt Jaeglé, professor of atmospheric sciences at the UW, is principal investigator of STRIVE, or “Stratosphere Troposphere Response using Infrared Vertically-Resolved Light Explorer.” The national-scale team includes partners from academia, industry and federal science labs.

The two instruments aboard the STRIVE spacecraft would observe temperature, ozone, water vapor, methane, reactive gases, smoke and other aerosol particles. They will collect 400,000 sets of observations every day — hundreds to thousands of times more than what’s possible now.

“Before a major weather event at the surface, there can be precursor signs that happen in the stratosphere,” Jaeglé said. “And we see those weeks ahead of time. Observing the stratosphere and how these signals propagate down will be key to getting better weather forecasts on subseasonal to seasonal scales, so two weeks to two months in advance.”

Other UW members of STRIVE are professor Qiang Fu, assistant professor Alex Turner and affiliate faculty member Daehyun Kim, all in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

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