Atmospheric Composition

Variations in constituents such as ozone and aerosols affect air quality, weather, and climate. Atmospheric composition is central to Earth system dynamics because the atmosphere integrates spatially varying surface emissions globally on time scales from weeks to years. NASA works to provide monitoring and evaluation tools to assess the effects of climate change on ozone recovery and future atmospheric composition, improved climate forecasts based on the understanding of the forcings of global environmental change, and air quality modeling that take into account the relationship between regional air quality and global climate change. Achievements in these areas via advances in observations, data assimilation, and modeling enable improved predictive capabilities for describing how future changes in atmospheric composition affect air quality, weather, and climate. NASA draws on global observations from space, augmented by suborbital and ground-based measurements to address these issues.

Research Questions

Atmospheric Composition addresses the following overarching questions:

  • How is atmospheric composition changing?
  • What trends in atmospheric composition and solar radiation influence global climate?
  • How does atmospheric composition respond to and affect global environmental change?
  • What are the effects of global atmospheric composition and climate changes on regional air quality?
  • How will future changes in atmospheric composition affect ozone, climate, and global air quality?


Research Programs

Upper Atmosphere Research Program (UARP)

The Upper Atmosphere Research Program (UARP) concentrates on observations to study processes that control ozone concentrations in the upper troposphere and stratosphere, and therefore surface ultraviolet radiation. The program funds laboratory studies, ground-based network observations, and field campaigns that contribute to quantifying scientific understanding of ozone changes. These activities complement the observations from and data analysis using the NASA EOS Aura satellite as well as other satellites that observe the upper troposphere and stratosphere. Typical laboratory studies include kinetics studies of key reactions that either directly or indirectly destroy and create ozone or the precursors to ozone destroying compounds, as well as spectroscopic studies required to accurately monitor the key atmospheric constituents. Typical field studies include airborne in situ and remote sensing instrumentation for focused aircraft field campaigns, high altitude balloon remote sensing and in situ observations, and long-term ground-based in situ and remote sensing programs [such as Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) and Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change (NDACC)]. The WMO/UNEP quadrennial assessments on ozone depletion, as mandated by the Montreal Protocol, rely heavily on many of these observations, and investigators in this and other NASA atmospheric composition programs contribute heavily to these assessments.

Tropospheric Composition Program (TCP)

The Tropospheric Composition Program (TCP) seeks to improve the utility of satellite measurements in understanding of global tropospheric ozone and aerosols, including their precursors and transformation processes in the atmosphere. Ozone and aerosols are fundamental to both air quality and climate. The program emphasizes suborbital and ground-based measurements acquired during focused field deployments. Along with the other Atmospheric Composition programs, TCP also sponsors interpretation of these comprehensive but infrequent measurements to improve the continuous monitoring of tropospheric ozone and aerosols from space and the improvement of prognostic models. TCP also supports limited laboratory studies that are directly relevant to improved understanding of tropospheric chemistry.

Radiation Sciences Program (RSP)

The Radiation Sciences Program (RSP) strives to develop a quantitative and predictive understanding of how aerosols, clouds, and radiatively active gases scatter and absorb radiation (including both solar and terrestrially originated radiation) in the Earth’s atmosphere, especially as it relates to climate variability and change. The program supports studies to improve the theoretical understanding of radiative transfer as well as field measurements of aerosol and cloud particle concentration, composition, microphysics, and optical properties. These measurements include both airborne and surface-based remote and in situ measurements. The program also supports the analysis of satellite remote sensing and field data as well as the development of process models, which contribute to an Earth system modeling capability.

Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)

The Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP) supports studies of air quality and oxidation efficiency in the troposphere, how pollution-sourced aerosols affect cloud properties, stratospheric chemistry and ozone depletion, and interactions between atmospheric chemistry and climate. Studies of long-term trends in atmospheric composition are also of interest, where the connection between cause and effect is elucidated using models. The program is particularly interested in studies that integrate observations from multiple instruments with models to address attribution and predictions. Use of satellite and suborbital data sets and ground-based measurements are encouraged for modeling constraints and verification where applicable.

Associated Earth Science Division Missions, Instruments, and Data Sets

The table below lists all Earth missions that are relevant to the Atmospheric Composition Focus Area in all phases.

  • Operating  missions include missions at the start of the Operations and Sustainment phase of their life-cycle. This phase marks the transition from system development and acquisition activities to primarily systems operations and sustainment activities.
  • Missions under development are missions that are at the Final Design and Fabrication (Phase C) and System Assembly, Integration and Test, and Launch (Phase D) phases of their life-cycle. The primary activities in this category are developmental in nature, including acquisition contract execution. Phase C includes: the completion of final system design and fabrication of test and flight architecture; qualification testing; development of detailed integration plans and procedures; and test of components, assemblies, and subsystems. Phase D entails: system assembly, integration, and test (AI&T); verification/ certification; prelaunch activities; system launch; and completion of on orbit checkout or initial operations.
  • Under study missions include missions that are at the pre-formulation and formulation stages of their life-cycle. Pre-formulation begins the process to define a viable and affordable concept for new NASA programs and projects, via concept studies. This step is followed by the formulation stage, which consists of two sequential phases, the Concept & Technology Development phase and the Preliminary Design & Technology Completion phase. The primary activities in these phases are to develop and define the project requirements and cost/schedule basis, and to design a plan for implementation (including an acquisition strategy, contractor selection, and long-lead procurement).
  • Past missions are missions that have reached the Closeout phase, during which project systems are taken out of service and safely disposed, although scientific and other analyses might still continue under project funding.


PHASE NAME                                                        
Satellite Missions Aqua
Suomi NPP
Suborbital Investigations:
Ground-based Observations

Suborbital Investigations:
Aircraft Missions

Satellite Missions OCO-3
Suborbital Investigations: Aircraft Missions AToM
Satellite Missions ACE
Satellite Missions OCO


ROSES Solicitations

For solicited program elements relevant to Atmospheric Composition, search for and view open, closed, and future Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) NASA Research Announcements (NRAs) on the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System (NSPIRES) website.

Here is a list of 2015 solicited program elements:

A.16 Upper Atmosphere Research and AURA Science Team

A.17 Radiation Sciences Program

A.18 Atmospheric Composition: Modeling and Analysis


Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs)

Atmospheric Science Data Center 9aSDC DAAC) at NASA Langley Research Center

Goddard Earth Sciences Atmospheric Composition Data and Information Services Center


Relevant Sites

Topics relevant to Atmospheric Composition are also being pursued through the following:

NASA Applied Sciences Programs


NASA Center Organizations


Interagency/International Activities


Program Managers

Hal Maring
Radiation Sciences Program

Ken Jucks
Upper Atmosphere Research Program

Barry Lefer
Tropospheric Composition Program

Richard Eckman
Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program

Robert Swap
Radiation Sciences Program