A week after sending four astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time, SpaceX on Saturday launched the first of two satellites that will monitor sea level rise over the next decade.
NASA’s Sentinel 6-Michael Freilich oceanographic satellite – a joint venture with the European Space Agency – has launched a five-and-a-half-year mission to collect “the most accurate sea level data to date in the world and the way our oceans rise in response to climate change, ”according to NASA.
The mission will also collect information on atmospheric temperature and humidity to improve weather forecasts and climate models.
The satellite went into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 12:17 p.m. ET on Saturday. The satellite is named in honor of the late director of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division. This is the first launch on the west coast in a year and a half.
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A second satellite is expected to be launched in the coming years. Once in orbit, each satellite will collect measurements of sea level “to the nearest centimeter for 90% of the world’s oceans,” according to NASA.
The most recent effort to monitor sea level rise follows the 2016 launch of the US-European satellite Jason-3, which currently provides observations of ocean topography, according to NASA.
The Jason series of satellites have been monitoring global sea level since 2001, according to NASA. Although they were able to track climatic phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, the satellites were unable to measure smaller variations in sea level, NASA said. Newer satellites can collect measurements at a higher resolution.
Sea level rise has accelerated over the past 25 years and scientists expect it to accelerate even more in the years to come, according to NASA. This increase will change coasts and the way floods and storms affect cities.
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Scientists have traditionally measured sea level using tide gauges along the coast, NASA project scientist Josh Willis said in a video.
“These are great records. Some of them go back over a hundred years, so they give us a historical perspective. But they’re only at these unique points, and the oceans cover over two-thirds of the surface of the planet, “he said. “So if you want to see it all, you have to do it from a bird’s eye view.”
The Sentinel 6-Michael Freilich – nearly 17 feet long and 2,628 pounds – uses its positioning systems to measure sea level, Willis said.
“This thing has radar that tells us how far the satellite is from the ocean surface, so it bounces around and measures the time of return,” he said. “And then, it also has a number of positioning systems. So if you know where the satellite is and how far it is from the water, you can use those two pieces of information to tell you the height of the ocean. is.”
The satellite will orbit 830 miles above Earth and perform about 13 orbits per day, moving at 4.5 miles per second, according to NASA.
Contributor: Rachael Joy, Florida Today