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NASA’s Polar Mission: PREFIRE

  • Context (IE): NASA is launching a polar mission called PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment). The mission involves two tiny twin satellites.
  • The satellites will orbit near-polar regions asynchronously, passing over the same spot on Earth at different times to maximise coverage.
  • It will measure the radiant energy emitted by Earth’s polar regions.
  • It will reveal the complete spectrum of heat loss from these regions for the first time.


  • Currently, about 60% of the heat energy radiated into space in infrared wavelengths has never been systematically measured.
    • Earth absorbs a significant amount of energy from the Sun in the tropics, which is then transferred towards the poles through air and water currents, which are then radiated upward into space.
    • The difference between how much heat Earth absorbs in the tropics and then radiates out to space from the Arctic and the Antarctic determines the planet’s temperature
  • The PREFIRE mission seeks to address this by measuring the heat loss from the polar regions and improving the accuracy of climate models.


  • The mission will provide data to enhance climate change predictions and forecasts of sea level rise.
  • It will provide new insights into how Earth’s atmosphere and ice affect the heat radiated from the poles.
  • It will help understand the reasons why the Arctic has warmed more than 2½ times faster than the rest of the planet since the 1970s.
  • It will determine how efficiently far-infrared heat is emitted by substances like snow and sea ice and how clouds impact the radiation escaping into space.
  • It will improve predictions of future changes in heat exchange between Earth and space and their effects on phenomena like ice sheet melting, atmospheric temperatures, and global weather.

Importance of Polar regions in understanding the global climate

  • They play a crucial role in balancing the heat energy of the Earth.
  • Changes in the polar regions can significantly impact global weather patterns and climate.
    • For instance, alterations in the Arctic and Antarctic can lead to extreme weather events, such as storms, flooding, and coastal erosion, worldwide.

Heat Budget of the Earth

Heat Budget - PMF IAS

Credit: BBC

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