NASA and ESA’s Sea Level Satellite Sends Back First Readings
This illustration shows the front of the Michael Freilich Sentinel-6 spacecraft in orbit above the earth with the solar modules extended. The world’s newest ocean monitoring satellite will collect the most accurate data yet on global sea levels and the rise of our oceans in response to climate change. NASA / JPL-Caltech
A satellite recently launched by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) has returned its first sea level data, ushering in a new era of more accurate measurements of sea level rise – a key indicator of climate change.
The Michael Freilich Sentinel-6 satellite was launched at the end of November and launched into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was originally placed in a lower orbit, 11.4 miles below its possible operating orbit of 830 miles above the surface of the earth. With the instruments and data acquisition switched on, it will now move alongside another satellite, the Jason-3 sea level satellite launched in 2016, for a period of six to twelve months.
The researchers will compare the readings from both satellites to ensure the accuracy of the new satellite and precisely calibrate its instruments. Then the new Sentinel-6 will take over as the primary instrument for measuring sea level rise.
“Data from Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will help us assess how the earth is changing,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s geosciences division, in a statement. “If we combine data from instruments like the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich altimeter with data from other satellites like GRACE-FO and ICESat-2, we can determine how much the sea level rise is due to melting ice and how much is due to it expansion as the oceans warm. Understanding these underlying physical mechanisms enables NASA to improve projections of future sea level rise. “
The data collected by Sentinel-6 shows an area of the ocean off the southern tip of Africa that has been compared to data from three other satellites to ensure its accuracy. The engineers who worked on the new satellite are delighted that it works so smoothly and that the data looks good so far.
“Christmas came earlier this year,” said Josh Willis, project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “And immediately the data looks fantastic.”