NASA releases long-term precipitation satellite data

October 18, 2019

NASA has made available nearly 20 years of satellite precipitation data that could improve the accuracy of climate and weather models in Indiana and around the world.

Project scientists at NASA say the long-term data will help compare and contrast data to make climate and weather models more accurate and strengthen applications for current and future disasters, disease migration, resource management, energy production and food security.

The Global Precipitation Measurement mission’s IMERG data set features precipitation information from a group of American and international satellites dating back to 2000.

NASA's IMERG data set contains nearly 20 years of free, publicly available satellite precipitation data.

The data set includes information ranging from the size of rain droplets to the movement of storm systems across a continent.

“With nearly 20 years of satellite data looking at rain and snow around the world, we can get a better sense of the seasonal cycle everywhere around the world,” said Dalia Kirschbaum, the GPM’s deputy project scientist for applications in a conference call. “The key to that is having very detailed, accurate measurements.”

Using a set of complex calculations called IMERG, or Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals for GPM, scientists have been able to use information from multiple satellites to generate a summary of global precipitation every half hour.

NASA scientists said the decades of data could help governments at all levels more accurately plan for changes caused climate change.

“Well, with climate change, we know that the wet areas are going to get wetter and the dry areas are going to get dryer, but using clues from the past in terms of those extremes, we can get a better sense of how to model and predict the future,” said Kirschbaum. “And that gives us a better understanding of how the changes aren’t uniform — how things may be evolving as our climate changes, and what areas may be more extreme in the next decades.”

NASA said researchers, emergency responders and health professionals could use the data to see how precipitation events shaped things in the past to help them prepare for similar events in the future.

“In the United States, we’re blessed with an almost excess of data. So, in Indianapolis, if you want to know what’s happening you pop open the radar,” said George Huffman, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement mission. “The important thing for us is that we can use all this detailed information over the US to help us verify that we’re doing a good job.”

Besides helping to calibrate and improve precipitation knowledge in the U.S., Huffman said the satellite data could improve weather and climate change resiliency in developing countries, potentially saving countless lives.

“We’re used to having rain gauges, radars, satellites and all kinds of stuff because the United States has had to invest very heavily over the decades because we have some of the most severe weather in the world,” said Huffman. “But when you get outside the United States, all of a sudden the picture changes a lot. And so, this satellite data is critical for developing countries.”

The 20-year data set is free to access and download. NASA has also included tutorials for anyone wanting to use the data. NASA said the GPM mission is expected to last at least until the mid-2030s.

NASA releases long-term precipitation satellite data