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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 Global Precipitation Measurement Mission (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.

Related Articles
Top 5 GPM Research Highlights
GPM celebrates its fifth anniversary since launching from Tanegashima Island, Japan on February 27, 2014. This milestone not only marks the launch but also the many scientific research accomplishments that GPM has made in advancing our understanding of precipitation, from light rain to intense thunderstorms, to further our understanding of the water cycle. Here are five of GPM’s most significant research accomplishments and their contributions to weather and climate science in its first five years in space: Snowfall and Cold Season Precipitation An image of GPM’s DPR concept of dual-frequency...
GPM Gets Flake-y
In this video GPM Project Scientist Dr. Gail Skofronick-Jackson explains how scientists can measure the size, shape and distribution of snow particles, layer by layer, in a storm using GPM. The Global Precipitation Measurement mission is an international satellite project that provides next-generation observations of rain and snow worldwide every three hours.
GPM Sees Larsen-C Ice Shelf Separation
Click here to download the video (.mp4) On July 12, 2017, a giant iceberg broke off Antarctica and a variety of satellites have been used to study it ever since. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Microwave Imager (GMI) instrument can see the ribbon of relatively warm water and ice that separates the newly formed iceberg from the its parent mass of ice, the Larsen C ice shelf. While the iceberg is separated from the parent iceshelf by only a few kilometers, the GMI instrument is sensitive enough to detect the variation in temperature between this relatively warm gap and the colder ice...
Atmospheric River Slams California
After more than four years of drought, Californians may wonder where the current rain is coming from. Using satellites, NASA scientists have a unique view of the sources of precipitation, and how it reaches the western United States. Rain is often carried by narrow tendrils of moisture called atmospheric rivers that occur all over the world, shown here in white. The atmospheric rivers that affect the western United States are known as the Pineapple Express because they transport water vapor from as far south as Hawaii to California. When the moisture reaches land, it is forced up over the...
Monsoons: Wet, Dry, Repeat
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Ryan Fitzgibbons This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio The monsoon is a seasonal rain and wind pattern that occurs over South Asia (among other places). Through NASA satellites and models we can see the monsoon patterns like never before. Monsoon rains provide important reservoirs of water that sustain human activities like agriculture and supports the natural environment through replenishment of aquifers. However, too much rainfall routinely causes disasters in the region...

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