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What is water?

Water is what we use to clean ourselves, our clothes, our dishes and our floors.

Water is what we use to hydrate after a heavy workout, or cool down on a hot day.

Under the best conditions, you could only last about a week without it. Most of the human body is water -- water is us, and we are water.

There's a lot we don't understand about the liquid that sustains us. It's unpredictable, at times nurturing and at times violent. But it's something we strive to know more about and need to know more about. Water covers the vast majority of our planet and showers down upon us. Yet sometimes it seems that we don't have enough of it in certain places, and this causes damage to both the Earth and its inhabitants.

Water is an important component of the planet's weather patterns. As we struggle to understand long-term weather shifts and predict where the greatest need for an ample water supply might be in the future, we look for ways to gain greater understanding of Earth's weather and ask ourselves the question, "Can we begin to fix this hole in our planetary awareness?"

NASA to Observe Global Water Supply

NASA is out to repair our lack of knowledge about water and weather patterns around the globe with its new Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) project. At the end of February, the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory was launched into space from Japan. This satellite is the central component of the GPM mission and serves the goal of observing and photographing cloud patterns, rain and snowfall around the world. And the U.S. is not alone in this endeavor. Space agencies from Japan, India and France, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have banded together to build and supply different pieces to the network of satellites controlled by the project.

With this help from other nations, GPM will be able to monitor storm fronts, cloud formations and other weather patterns, observing them in 3-D. By watching how clouds form and how moisture reacts in these formations, scientists hope to understand more about water than just how much we need to drink per day.

GPM works by expanding on the measuring system first used for the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. This sensor package was sent into space in 1997 in order to monitor the level and ferocity of rainfall and other weather patterns in the tropics. GPM will push to measure the effects worldwide in an effort to comprehend how weather affects the environment, the availability of potable water, and the ability of farmers to grow and sustain crops.

The growth and sustainability of crops is important. Learning more about weather patterns to better predict disasters is important. Understanding how climate change is affecting the environment is drastically important. Many schools understand this, and now offer degree programs geared toward people who want to dig in and help.

Be Part of the Solution

While NASA and space programs from around the world begin to collect data and sift through it, there are ways that students can help right now. Some schools offer an MBA in sustainability, which focuses on building corporate strategies regarding how to follow environmental regulations without hurting the bottom line. Some schools even offer deeper concentrations in renewable energy, green development, green information technology and food systems management. Any limits on the detrimental footprint large corporations have on the environment, including inefficient energy use and contributing pollution, could have a positive impact.

Those who want to work even closer with natural resources might consider a degree in environmental science. Working in laboratories or in the field, environmental scientists study changes in and damages to the environment. They may also work with government agencies or nonprofit organizations, collecting data for reports and presentations and providing recommendations for future environmental policy. When the data comes back from GPM, environmental scientists might be able to distill the findings and make informed proposals on how to alleviate global concerns over changing weather patterns and large natural disasters.

As our planet continues changing and adding inhabitants, it's more important than ever to understand how weather patterns affect global precipitation. While entities such as NASA work to help us gain a better understanding of this issue, individuals in the environmental sustainability sector stand poised to help us develop new solutions to water shortages and other global issues.

"Global Precipitation Measurement Mission Overview," NASA, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GPM/overview/index.html#.UydUEYY_zzo