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HAWC mission: Clouds and aerosols to help predict climate change

HAWC (High-altitude Aerosols, Water vapour and Clouds) is a planned Canadian mission that will provide critical data to support extreme weather prediction, climate modelling, and monitoring of disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, wildfires and extreme precipitation. HAWC consists of three innovative Canadian instruments and a Canadian satellite that will be part of the international NASA-led Atmosphere Observing System (AOS).

A major component of NASA's Earth System Observatory, AOS is an international multi-satellite mission with many instruments that will measure aerosols and clouds, and how they interact to impact Earth's weather and climate. The data collected by HAWC and AOS will improve our ability to predict near-term weather events, long-term climatic conditions and air quality.

Illustration of the AOS mission

Illustration: AOS for weather and air quality forecasting and climate modelling. (Credit: NASA)

What are aerosols?

Earth's atmosphere is full of tiny particles known as aerosols. Coming in different shapes, sizes, and chemical compositions, they are solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air. Common aerosols include smoke particles from fires, sea salt, dust, fine sand, air pollution, volcanic ash and pollen. Aerosols can be produced by natural events, like forest fires and volcanic eruptions. Humans also produce them through vehicle emissions, industrial processes and power plants that burn fossil fuels.

The effect of aerosols on climate change

Although tiny, aerosols have a big impact on our weather and climate. Some types of aerosols affect air quality and human health. Aerosols also affect cloud formation and precipitation such as rain and snow. Clouds and aerosols interact with light from the Sun and heat from Earth. This means that changing aerosols and clouds can either warm or cool the Earth depending on their types and locations. Improving our observations of aerosols and clouds is essential to a better understanding of the atmosphere and better predictions of climate change and extreme weather events.

Made-in-Canada technology

Canadian scientists and industry have unique expertise to contribute to the AOS. NASA has invited Canada to develop three cutting-edge instruments for this mission, slated for launch in . Supported by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the following concept technologies have been designed and developed by Canadian universities:

Infographic on HAWC mission
Text version

HAWC is a Canadian mission on NASA's AOS, a four-satellite constellation. It will support extreme weather prediction, climate modelling and disaster monitoring. (Credit: CSA)


The AOS will study aerosol and cloud processes that drive extreme weather and climate change. It will collect measurements of aerosols, clouds, convection and precipitation using multiple instruments in various locations from Earth orbiting satellites and suborbital platforms.

Better climate projection for Canadians

The data gathered by HAWC as part of the AOS will allow Canadians to better anticipate and prepare for extreme weather events, including storms, floods, droughts, and poor air quality conditions. This information is crucial for projecting the impacts of climate change. It will allow communities, particularly those in the North and near water, to better develop and maintain their infrastructure. It will help improve wildlife and habitat management. Better weather predictions and climate projections will help scientists, governments, and industry work together to find ways to adapt to climate change, protecting the health of Canadians and improving the resilience of our society.

Canada has been invited to participate in the future AOS satellite mission led by NASA. This mission will provide vital data to improve long-term climate projections and short-term weather and air quality predictions. (Credit: CSA)


Canadian collaborators include Environment and Climate Change Canada, the National Research Council of Canada and Natural Resources Canada as well as a coast-to-coast consortium of universities:

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