By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – For years, satellites in outer space have been gathering information on the earth’s oceans, now U.S. and European entities have announced a joint mission which involves the launching of a new pair of satellites to monitor the rising sea levels. With the two new satellites, researchers hope to obtain new insights on climate change.
“Global sea level rise is one of the most expensive and disruptive impacts of climate change that there is,” stated Josh Willis, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, when announcing the mission.
The mission is called Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Jason Continuity of Service) and the satellites will measure the ocean rise down to the millimeter. Like its predecessors, the satellites are expected to map up to 95 percent of Earth’s ice-free oceans every ten days providing information on events such as El Nino and La Nina, hurricanes, and tornados.
Unlike earlier satellite, however, these two higher-resolution instruments will also be able to provide data on smaller ocean features, such as currents, helping navigation and fishing communities.
The satellites will substitute the current Jason-3 mission as of 2020, and continue a mission started with Topex/Poseidon in 1992 and continued with Jason-2. The two Sentinel-6/Jason-CS will monitor the oceans until 2030.
The pair of satellites are identical, and will be launched five years apart. Each has an expected lifetime of about 7 years, guaranteeing that the two will overlap, and there will be no gap in the data. Built by German company IABG, they will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California US on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The mission is a joint venture developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellite (EUMETSAT), and the United States’ NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Funding is provided by the European Commission and support from France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES).
“The mission will continue to map the evolutions of mean sea level in our changing climate, providing essential information for adaptation policies in coastal areas and small island states. This is an important contribution to the Paris Agreement.” EUMETSAT Director-General Alain Ratier, said during the announcement of the new mission.
The four earlier satellites missions showed that the Earth’s oceans are rising at an average rate of three millimeters (0.1 inches) every year. Only a few years ago, back in 2007, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted a 59 centimeter rise by 2100. Now, only a dozen years later, the entity says that increase has almost doubled.
“Global sea level rise is, in a way, the most complete measure of how humans are changing the climate. If you think about it, global sea level rise means that 70 percent of Earth’s surface is getting taller,” concluded Willis.
Last month the Jason-2 satellite successfully ended its mission, after orbiting the earth’s atmosphere for eleven years collecting data on our oceans.