Sentinel-6 satellite Michael Freilich is set to launch on Saturday as the next generation spacecraft to monitor our planet’s sea levels.
The joint operation between NASA and the European Space Agency will begin at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 21 at 12:17 p.m. ET.
Once in orbit, the truck-sized satellite will monitor global sea levels for the next year and a half from 830 miles above the Earth’s surface.
For 30 years, satellites have helped monitor Earth’s sea level. This satellite is the last in this series, but it will collect the most accurate data yet on global sea level and how it is changing in response to climate change.
The Sentinel-6 has a higher resolution for collecting metrics, which means it can track both large features such as Gulf Stream and smaller features such as coastal variants.
The satellite will collect data that can be used to improve weather forecast, hurricane monitoring and climate models, such as humidity and atmospheric temperature. Scientists can also use the data to predict areas where shores may be displaced.
This is a dual mission and the satellite has a twin, the Sentinel-6B, which will launch in 2025. Together, the twin satellites will continue the tradition of continuously monitoring sea level rise for a quarter of a decade.
“This mission is a global partnership required to study our planet because it belongs to all of us,” Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA’s Mission to Science, told a news conference on Friday.
“To understand what climate change means for humanity, science must take a long look. This mission is a continuation of 30 years of continuous measurements by spacecraft that have surrounded the Earth. We will have another decade of critical measurements from this perspective. “We are doing this together as an international community and that makes us stronger.”
A legacy of studying our planet
The mission was renamed earlier this year for the late Michael Frilich, oceanographer and director of NASA’s Earth Science Division from 2006 to 2019. Frilich died in August. The satellite was named in his honor to commemorate Freilich’s contributions to Earth science and satellite oceanography and to promote ocean space measurements.
During a press conference on Friday, Zurbuchen reminded everyone of Freilich’s words and perspective on the importance of studying the Earth from space.
“Humanity, not a service, not a country, not a continent, but … humanity has been monitoring the global sea level from space with great precision for more than 28 years.”
The Sentinel-6 follows in the footsteps of Jason-3, a satellite launched in 2016. At present, it continues to provide observations of the global ocean topography.
Duplication of satellites allows mission teams to make sure they are receiving continuous data before the end of the previous mission.
Following the release, the Sentinel-6 will fly 30 seconds behind the Jason-3. The team will update the data of both satellites next year before the end of the Jason-3 mission.
This long tradition of sea level monitoring satellites began with the initial missions of the Jason series and its TOPEX / Poseidon predecessor, which began in 2001 and 1992, respectively.
It is part of the Copernicus, the European Union Earth monitoring program. This program maintains accurate sea level data for more than 90% of the Earth’s oceans. The data collected by this satellite chain has contributed to climate studies, marine meteorology and oceanography.
Eyes on the ocean
Long-term continuous monitoring of global sea levels is the key to understanding how our planet responds to global warming and climate change. And when global sea levels rise, it is a clear indicator of global warming, according to climate experts.
Understanding global sea levels can help scientists detect ocean currents as they transfer heat to the planet. This ripple effect can affect our weather.
Coastlines are also changing in response to rising sea levels due to climate change. As the planet warms, the ocean absorbs heat trapped by greenhouse gases, causing some of the expansion behind sea level rise. Melting glaciers and ice sheets account for most of the change.
The rate of sea level rise has increased over the last 25 years and will continue in the future. It is an important monitoring factor because coastal floods caused by storms can reshape residential areas.
Freilich recognized that the rise of the Earth’s sea would require the cooperation of people around the world to understand and solve.
The agency set up the Marine Change Science Team in 2014 to bring people together across NASA and other institutions to study glaciers, ice sheets, ocean and land movement to get the best picture of its effects. sea level rise.
“We are committed to this great goal,” said Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, NASA program director who oversees the team. “The sea level is affected by these different factors that do not cover a discipline – so we have to bring in experts to approach it from all angles.”
But this satellite can also help to better understand how the Earth’s climate is changing overall, from its global ocean to the apex of its atmosphere.