NASA asks public to share cloud photos to help confirm satellite data

NASA has revealed it's using a rare strategy to help verify data from the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES): asking the public for help. The space agency says its satellites sometimes have difficulty identifying and separating clouds, so it's having citizen scientists submit photos of clouds from the ground in order to compare data.

The CERES project is tasked with studying the Earth's climate, including the roles clouds play in climate change. NASA explains that its instruments can't always differentiate between clouds and other things from above the planet. For example, it can be difficult to separate thin, wispy cirrus clouds from a background of snow, especially since both are found at high altitudes.

Photos from the ground by the public will be compared to the imagery from the satellites to make sure the instruments are correctly identifying clouds. "Looking at what an observer recorded as clouds and looking at their surface observations really helps us better understand the images that were matched from the satellite," said NASA's Marilé Colón Robles, head of the GLOBE clouds team.

Those willing to help can download the GLOBE Observer app — available on both iOS and Android — which features detailed instructions on how to take and submit the photos, as well as what details to include. NASA notes that the changing seasons between winter and summer are the most important for this data, as it covers some very interesting cloud activity.

Users can submit up to 10 photos per day between now and April 15th, and if a picture is taken during the same window as when a CERES satellite is overhead, NASA will send and email with a comparison of the submission and their own image.