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NASA's S-MODE Mission: Exploring the Ocean's Surface


Kelly Luis, a NASA postdoctoral program fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, uses a handheld instrument called the Spectral Evolution to measure water color during the Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE) mission. Credit: NASA/Avery Snyder
Kelly Luis, a NASA postdoctoral program fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, uses a handheld instrument called the Spectral Evolution to measure water color during the Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE) mission. Credit: NASA/Avery Snyder

NASA's Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE) mission is a collaborative effort to study the ocean's surface and its interaction with the atmosphere. The mission combines observations from airborne sensors, a research ship, and autonomous instruments like gliders to gain a comprehensive understanding of the ocean's role in the Earth's changing climate. The last of three field expeditions began on April 7, 2023, and will end on May 4, 2023. This article discusses the S-MODE mission, its objectives, and the tools used to achieve them.


Exploring Ocean Eddies


The S-MODE mission is focused on studying the small swirls on the ocean surface, known as eddies, which are difficult to observe from satellites and models. These eddies have a significant impact on the climate and oceans, affecting the way the ocean absorbs and emits heat, greenhouse gases, and nutrients. The mission's aim is to gain a better understanding of the ocean dynamics driven by eddies at kilometer scales and their impact on global climate change. Observations from the mission will help researchers determine the net effect of eddies on air-sea exchange, which could be larger than the heating from the greenhouse effect.



Tools and Techniques


The S-MODE mission is using a range of tools and techniques to gather data and achieve its objectives. Airborne instruments, a research ship, and autonomous instruments like gliders are being used to gather observations from different perspectives. These observations are being blended to form an unprecedented view of the whirlpools and eddies that affect the ocean. Ship-based instruments that measure ocean color are being used to understand the creatures living near the surface. Different wavelengths of light scattered or absorbed when sunlight hits the ocean. Phytoplankton, microscopic organisms floating in the ocean's surface layer, are responsible for part of that light transformation. These organisms take up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, and they serve as a foundation of the marine food web. Researchers are using ship-based instruments to measure differences in ocean color and determine the amount of phytoplankton present within surface layers and their species.


Collaboration and Support


The S-MODE mission is a team effort, with contributions from various NASA centers and researchers from different institutions. Collaboration and support are essential for the success of the mission. The project's success depends on the different teams coming together and working towards a common goal. The researchers have a great responsibility to the S-MODE team and are eager to learn as much as possible during research campaigns.

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