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NASA launched a new ocean observation satellite on the back of a SpaceX rocket last week. Now that it’s in space, the Sentinel-6 named the “Michael Freilich” will perform continuous monitoring of ocean levels and currents for the next 30 years. The “unprecedented accuracy” of its data will benefit ocean travel, weather forecasts, hurricane predictions, and climate science. “The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our understanding of how,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “The changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the impact on local communities varies widely. International collaboration is critical to both understanding these changes and informing coastal communities around the world.”
Why This Matters: The Sentinel-6 will help scientists monitor the climate crisis as it unfolds in our world’s oceans and coasts (home to 40% of humanity). Hopefully, its data will also help prevent tragic deaths from hurricanes, which are becoming increasingly unpredictable and dangerous as our oceans warm.This is the kind of research that the government does best — the data will benefit scientists globally and be widely available free of charge.You can watch as it circles the Earth – and maybe go for a swim through the solar system, while you’re at it – using NASA’s web-based app, Eyes on the Earth. Far out!
Partnering with Europe
This mission marks the first international involvement in the EU’s earth monitoring program, Copernicus. Many partners helped bring Sentinel-6 to life, including NASA. Climate disaster knows no national boundaries, unfortunately – so in order to take meaningful climate action, we must foster a healthy attitude toward international collaborative efforts. The Biden team has already vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement when Biden takes office in January. Ocean health is key to regulating the Earth’s climate — the ocean has been the largest carbon sink thus far. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained its significance for adapting to climate change that is already occurring — “whether providing farmers with agricultural data or aiding first responders with our Disasters program, we are tirelessly committed not just to learning and exploring, but to having an impact where it’s needed.” NOAA and the European weather agencies will use the data to improve weather forecasts.
The spacecraft is named for Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, who was a leading advocate for advancing ocean observations from space. Freilich died three months ago. “Michael was a tireless force in Earth sciences. Climate change and sea-level rise know no national borders, and he championed international collaboration to confront the challenge,” said ESA (European Space Agency) Director of Earth Observation Programmes Josef Aschbacher. “It’s fitting that a satellite in his name will continue the ‘gold standard’ of sea-level measurements for the next half-decade. This European-U.S. cooperation is exemplary and will pave the way for more cooperation opportunities in Earth observation.”
Last week was so busy with what was happening on Earth, there was hardly time to talk about what happened in space. To start the week, NASA launched a helicopter (named Ingenuity) on Mars — it did not just roll like the Perserverence rover — it flew and that was an amazing first that would […]
Don’t underestimate the power of the moon. Super full moons like the one last night happen when the moon is closest to Earth, and they bring higher tides. For coastal cities like Miami or Boston or Norfolk, high tides also mean an increased risk of flooding.
Why This Matters: “In short, the moon has very strong control over how we experience sea level. It doesn’t affect sea-level rise, but it can hide or exaggerate it,” writes Brian McNoldy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
A study published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters found that the Earth’s axis, which shifts naturally, is now shifting 17 times faster than before 1981. Scientists use satellites that track gravity to assess “polar drift” and what they have discovered is that water is the greatest cause of the shifts. Even more unnerving […]
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