PMM science banner depicting TRMM 3D cloud measurements, the D3R radar, water droplets, a weather UAV plane from below, and TRMM radar data

Measuring Rain and Snow from Space

Water is fundamental to life on Earth, affecting the behavior of the weather, climate, energy and ecological systems as water moves through the Earth’s water cycle as vapor, liquid and ice. Precipitation, a key component of the water cycle, is difficult to measure since rain and snow vary greatly in both space and time.

Obtaining reliable ground-based measurements of rain and snow often presents a formidable challenge due to large gaps between reliable instruments over land and, particularly, over the oceans. From the vantage point of space, satellites provide more frequent and accurate observations and measurements of rain and snow around the globe. This allows key insights into when, where and how much it rains or snows globally, supplying vital information to unravel the complex roles water plays in Earth systems.

In order to gain further insights into the relationships between the components of the Earth’s water cycle, we need to know not only how much rain falls at the surface but also the distribution of rain, snow, and other forms of precipitation within the atmosphere above the surface. This allows us to characterize precipitation processes that are vital to understanding the links and the transfer of energy (heat) between the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.

NASA’s Precipitation Measurement Missions – TRMM and GPM – provide advanced information on rain and snow characteristics and detailed three-dimensional knowledge of precipitation structure within the atmosphere, which help scientists study and understand Earth's water cycle, weather and climate.

Science Sections:

  • Research Topics: Provides an in depth look at some of the key contributions and advancements of the Precipitation Measuring Missions towards addressing key research topics including tropical storm structure, precipitation microphysics, and the role of precipitation in the global water cycle and climate dynamics.
  • Precipitation Algorithms: Data from satellite instruments are converted into meaningful measurements of precipitation using a series of retrieval algorithms.
  • Ground Validation: Scientists compare measurements of precipitation from rain guages, weather radar and airplanes to what the satellites’ instruments observe from space.