The Sentinel-6 satellite Michael Freilich is scheduled to launch on Saturday as the next generation of spacecraft that will keep an eye on the sea level of our planet.
The joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency will be launched on November 21 at 12:17 p.m. (CET) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
In orbit, the pickup-sized satellite will track global sea levels from 830 miles above the surface for the next five and a half years.
For 30 years, satellites have been helping to monitor Earth’s sea level. This satellite is the newest in the line-up, but it will collect the most accurate data yet on global sea levels and how it is shifting in response to climate change.
Sentinel-6 offers a higher resolution for collecting measurements. This means that both large features like the Gulf Stream and smaller features like coastline variations can be tracked.
The satellite collects data that can be used to improve weather forecast, hurricane tracking, and climate models such as humidity and air temperature. Scientists can also use the data to predict areas where coastlines may shift.
This is a two-pronged mission, and the satellite has a twin, Sentinel-6B, which will launch in 2025. Together, the twin satellites will carry the tradition of continuously monitoring sea level rise into a fourth decade.
“This mission is a global partnership that is needed to study our planet because it belongs to all of us,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, assistant administrator of NASA’s Directorate of Scientific Missions, during a news conference Friday.
“To understand what climate change means for humankind, science has to have a long-term view. This mission is a continuation of 30 years of uninterrupted measurements by spacecraft orbiting the earth. We will have another decade of critical measurements from this perspective We do this together as an international community and that makes us stronger. “
A legacy to study our planet
The mission was renamed earlier this year for the late oceanographer Michael Freilich and director of NASA’s Department of Earth Sciences from 2006 to 2019. Certainly died in August. The satellite was named in his honor to commemorate Freilich’s contributions to geoscience and satellite oceanography and to advance space-based ocean measurements.
During the press conference on Friday, Zurbuchen reminded everyone of Freilich’s words and perspectives on how important it is to study the earth from space.
“Humanity, not an agency, no country, no continent, but … humanity has been monitoring global sea levels from space with exquisite accuracy for more than 28 years.”
Sentinel-6 follows in the footsteps of Jason-3, a satellite launched in 2016. Observations of the topography of the global ocean are still being carried out.
By overlapping the satellites, mission teams can ensure they have ongoing data before the previous mission ends.
After launch, Sentinel-6 flies 30 seconds behind Jason-3. The team will cross-calibrate the data from both satellites before the Jason-3 mission ends next year.
This long tradition of sea level monitoring satellites began with the original Jason series missions and their predecessor TOPEX / Poseidon, launched in 2001 and 1992, respectively.
It is part of Copernicus, the European Union’s earth observation program. This program maintains accurate sea level data for more than 90% of the Earth’s ocean. The data gathered by this satellite chain has contributed to climate studies, marine meteorology and oceanography.
Eyes on the ocean
Long-term uninterrupted monitoring of global sea levels is key to understanding how our planet is responding to global warming and climate change. And when global sea levels rise, this is a clear indicator of global warming, according to climate experts.
Understanding global sea levels can help scientists track ocean currents as they transfer heat across the planet. This wave effect can affect our weather.
The coasts are also shifting in response to sea level rise caused by climate change. As the planet warms, the ocean absorbs the heat trapped by greenhouse gases, causing some of the expansion behind the rise in sea level. Melting glaciers and ice sheets make up most of the displacement.
The rate of sea level rise has increased over the past 25 years and will continue to do so in the future. This is an important factor as the coastal flooding caused by storms can alter the populated areas.
True, realized that the Earth’s rising sea levels would require the collaboration of people around the world to understand and solve.
The agency founded the Sea Level Change Science Team in 2014 to bring people from NASA and other institutions together to study glaciers, ice sheets, ocean and land movement, and get an optimal picture of the effects of sea level rise.
“We are united by this great goal,” said Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, the NASA program manager overseeing the team, in a statement. “Sea level is affected by these various factors that one discipline does not cover, so we need to bring in experts to approach it from all angles.”
However, this satellite can also contribute to a better understanding of changes in the earth’s climate as a whole, from the global ocean to the top of its atmosphere.