The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite is scheduled to launch on Saturday as the next generation of spacecraft monitors the sea levels on our planet.
The joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency will begin at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 21 at 12:17 PM ET.
Once in orbit, a truck-sized satellite will track global sea level over the next five and a half years from 830 miles above the Earth’s surface.
For 30 years, satellites have helped monitor sea level on Earth. This satellite is the latest in that series, but it will collect the most accurate data yet on global sea level and how it is transforming in response to climate change.
Sentinel-6 has higher metering accuracy, which means it can track both large features, such as the Gulf Stream, as well as smaller features like shoreline differences.
The satellite will collect data that can be used to improve weather forecasting, track hurricanes and climate models, such as humidity and atmospheric temperature. Scientists can also use the data to predict areas where coastlines may change.
This is a two-pronged mission and a twin satellite, Sentinel-6B, which will be launched in 2025. Together, the twin satellites will carry the tradition of continuous monitoring of sea level rise into the fourth decade.
“This mission is a global partnership that is needed to study our planet because it is ours,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a press conference on Friday.
“To understand what climate change means to humankind, science must take a long look. This mission is to follow 30 years of continuous measurements by spacecraft that orbit Earth. We will have another decade of important measurements from this perspective. We do it together as an international community and that makes us.” more powerful “.
The legacy of the study of our planet
The mission’s name was changed earlier this year to the late Michael Frisch, an oceanographer and director of NASA’s Division of Earth Sciences from 2006 to 2019. Frillish died in August. The satellite is named in his honor to recall Freilich’s contributions to Earth and ocean science via satellite and to the development of space ocean measurements.
During Friday’s press conference, Zurbuchen reminded everyone of Freelich’s words and his view on the importance of studying Earth from space.
“Humanity is not one agency, not one country, not one continent, but… Mankind has been monitoring the global sea level from space with pinpoint accuracy for more than 28 years.”
Sentinel-6 follows in the footsteps of Jason-3, a satellite launched in 2016. It still currently provides observations of global ocean terrain.
Satellite interference allows mission teams to ensure they receive continuous data before the previous mission ends.
After launch, Sentinel-6 will fly 30 seconds behind Jason-3. The team will calibrate both moons’ data over the next year before the Jason-3 mission ends.
This long tradition of sea level monitoring satellites began with the missions of the original Jason series and its predecessor TOPEX / Poseidon, which were launched in 2001 and 1992 respectively.
It is part of Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth observation program. This program maintains accurate data on the rise in sea levels of more than 90% of the oceans of the planet. Data collected by this series of satellites contributed to studies of climate, marine meteorology and ocean science.
Eyes on the ocean
Continuous long-term monitoring of global sea level is key to understanding how our planet responds to global warming and climate change. And when global sea level rises, it is a clear indicator of global warming, according to climate experts.
Understanding global sea level could help scientists track ocean currents as they transfer heat across the planet. This multiplier effect could affect our weather.
Coastlines are also changing in response to sea level rise induced by climate change. As the planet warms, the ocean absorbs the heat that is trapped by greenhouse gases, causing some expansion behind the sea level rise. Melting glaciers and ice sheets account for the majority of the transformation.
The rate of sea level rise has increased over the past 25 years, and will continue to rise in the future. It is an important factor to track as coastal flooding caused by storms can reshape populated areas.
Freelich realized that sea level rise required the cooperation of people around the world to understand and solve the problem.
The agency set up the Sea Level Change Science Team in 2014 to unite people across NASA and other institutions to study glaciers, ice sheets, oceans and land movement to get the best picture of the impacts of sea level rise.
“We are united by this great goal,” said Nadia Vinogradova Schaeffer, the NASA program manager who oversees the team. “The sea level is affected by these various factors that are not covered by one of the disciplines – so we have to hire experts to deal with it from all angles.”
But this satellite could also contribute to a greater understanding of how the Earth’s climate is shifting in general, from its global ocean all the way to the top of its atmosphere.