NASA’s AIRS tracks record-breaking heatwave in Pacific Northwest

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NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), on board the Aqua satellite, has captured the progression of an unprecedented heatwave that started around June 26 and broke numerous all-time temperature records in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. AIRS tracked the slow-moving heat dome across the region from June 21 to 30.

An animation of some of the AIRS data shows surface air temperature anomalies – values above or below long-term averages. In many cases, the highs exceeded previous temperature records by several degrees or more. On June 28, for example, Quillayute, Washington, set an all-time high temperature record of 110°F (43°C), shattering the old record of 99°F (37°C).

Numerous weather stations broke records on consecutive days, showing the unprecedented nature of this extreme heat, which is also being blamed for a number of fatalities. In British Columbia, the village of Lytton set a new all-time record for Canada at 119°F (48°C) on June 29, only to break it the next day with a reading of 121°F (49°C).

The AIRS instrument recorded similar temperature anomalies at an altitude of about 10,000ft (3,000m), showing that the extreme heat also affected mountainous regions. And temperature anomalies at roughly 18,000ft (5,500m) demonstrated that the heat dome extended high into Earth’s troposphere, creating the conditions for intense heat at the planet’s surface that are normally found farther south.

AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), senses emitted infrared and microwave radiation from Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at the planet’s weather and climate. Working in tandem, the two instruments make simultaneous observations down to Earth’s surface.

With more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the atmosphere, the system creates a global, three-dimensional map of atmospheric temperature and humidity, cloud amounts and heights, greenhouse gas concentrations and many other atmospheric phenomena.

Launched into Earth orbit in 2002 on board NASA’s Aqua spacecraft, the AIRS and AMSU instruments are managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, under contract to NASA.

For more information on AIRS, click here.

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Helen has worked for UKi Media & Events for more than a decade. She joined the company as assistant editor on Passenger Terminal World and has since progressed to become editor of five publications, covering everything from aviation, logistics and automotive to meteorology. She has a love for travel and property and has redeveloped three houses in three years. When she’s not editing magazines, she’s running around after her two boys and their partner in crime, Pete the pug.

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