NASA’s atmospheric infrared sounder tracks record-breaking heat waves in the Pacific Northwest
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Some animations of AIRS data show abnormal surface air temperature–values that are higher or lower than the long-term average. The surface air temperature is what people directly feel when they are outdoors.
In many cases, the maximum temperature exceeds the previous temperature record by several degrees or more. On June 28th, Quillayute in Washington State set a record for the highest temperature in history of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), breaking the record of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Numerous weather stations broke records for several days, showing the unprecedented nature of this extreme high temperature, which was also attributed to the occurrence of some deaths. In British Columbia, the village of Lytton set a new Canadian record at 119 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) on June 29, but broke that record with a reading of 121 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) the next day.
The AIRS instrument recorded similar temperature anomalies at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), indicating that extreme high temperatures have also affected mountainous areas. The temperature anomaly at about 18,000 feet (5486 meters) indicates that the “thermal dome” extends to the upper part of the earth’s troposphere, creating conditions for the high temperature of the earth’s surface, which is usually found further south.
AIRS and Advanced Microwave Detection Unit (AMSU) sense infrared and microwave radiation from the earth to provide a three-dimensional observation of the earth’s weather and climate. These two instruments work together to observe the earth’s surface at the same time. The system has more than 2,000 channels to sense different areas of the atmosphere, creating a global three-dimensional map of atmospheric temperature and humidity, cloud cover and height, greenhouse gas concentration, and many other atmospheric phenomena. The AIRS and AMSU instruments were launched into earth orbit with NASA’s Aqua satellite in 2002 and are managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.