Think of what we all would lose if earth satellites stopped functioning.
Our mobile phone and computer connections?
Our cars’ GPS systems to get us where we want to go?
In fact, at a time when global warming has never appeared more threatening, perhaps the most vital service we all would lose is the real-time reporting of changes in the Earth’s climate by ocean and weather observation satellites.
Without that continuous tracking of changes in our climate, including its impact on the ice caps that are so vulnerable to global warming, we would have no up to date roadmap for the urgent responses that are needed worldwide.
In addition alerting us to critical changes in our planet’s environment that are a ‘wake-up call’ to act to protect it, another vital service we would lack is the increasingly-early warning of extreme weather heading our way that the revolution in satellite technology is providing.
“What satellites can ‘see’ today compared to their first launch more than 30 years ago represents a real quantum jump in understanding how weather develops, how oceans are changing, and how they are both causing change on Earth, including the polar ice cap” says Sandrine Mathieu, Product Line Manager for Meteorology and Oceanography at Thales Alenia Space.
As a specialist in satellite technology, including optics and radar, Thales Alenia Space has been at the heart of Earth Observation technologies since its beginning as satellite designer and manufacturer and is today the leader in satellite missions designed to provide increasingly-accurate data for meteorological models. .
Since 1977, Thales Alenia Space has been the leader in all of Europe’s geostationary weather satellite programs--Meteosat, MSG, and MTG-- and has built them with more than one hundred European partners. Today, Thales Alenia Space is playing a leading role in the new Sentinel family of satellites for Europe’s Copernicus program of environmental monitoring and management. Itaims at achieving a global, continuous, autonomous, high quality wide range Earth observation capacity.
Performance over the years has seen constant improvement.
From thirty minutes between images to today’s fifteen minutes and, soon, an image every minute . The next advance for weather satellites will be video in the near future video for a not so far future
From a past maximum spatial resolution of ocean images not smaller than 1.2 kilometers to today’s clear ocean images as small as 300 meters in pixel size.
The improvements are not only in quantity and quality of the images beamed down to Earth but also in the new ‘3D’ imagery for that Sandrine Mathieu compares in value to “the difference between an x-ray and a body scan RMI for a medical diagnosis”.
She says, “Think of the atmosphere as a ‘millefeuille’ with layers and layers. Up until recently, we were only able to see the top layer. Today, we can see multiple layers to analyse them for temperature, pressure, and gas concentration. This reveals the changes that are the origin of storms, providing much more advance warning of more extreme weather which climate change appears to be generating more frequently”.
And, in oceanography, she points to an exclusive Thales Alenia Space’s radar technology that allows satellites high in the sky to measure precisely the height of water and waves.
Another big improvement came from Thales Alenia Space’s synthetic aperture radars for satellites that allow them to see through clouds, day and night and under any weather conditions.
Sandrine Mathieu points out “In oceanography, satellites today can not only measure temperature of the water, but also its color and so we can track plankton, suspended matter and algal pollution. These are two parameters to determine the health of the ocean”.
With such precision eyes in the sky, it’s no wonder that the applications today are providing invaluable information in so many ways.
Tracking temperature patterns that determine the pace of global warming and which are at the heart of climate change.
Monitoring changes in the polar ice caps and in glaciers that also signal the pace of climate change.
Continuing surveillance of faults in the Earth that can be source of earthquake and of volcanoes that can erupt.
And, when extreme weather or the Earth itself creates catastrophes, the satellites are on duty to identify the areas where help is most needed.
Economic sectors are also benefitting directly from the practical applications, including longer-term forecasts for agriculture, for identification of safer shipping routes and for immediate, 24/7 route-planning by airlines which are so dependent on weather prediction.
Eyes in the sky also provide nations with territorial surveillance that can help avoid conflict that also can be generated by the impact of climate change.
And, unlike with human vision that deteriorates with age, satellites are continually programmed with fresh data that allow them to ‘learn’ for clearer imagery and more forward-looking data.
Sandrine Mathieu concludes, “We have moved to a new era in satellite technology by providing unique and vital information to climate and weather models. Instead of only identifying weather and ocean changes, we can predict future changes in both, and with increasing precision. The understanding of climate change which they provide today is one of our best tools to address the climate risks to our planet.”
Satellites are one of the most vital components in better understanding our planet. And it’s no accident that the latest edition of the book Climate Change & Satellites, published by Sud[s] Concepts for Thales Alenia Space, is entitled “Acting Together”.
Precision surveillance by increasingly-powerful oceanography and weather observation satellites is delivering some priceless insights. Read on, for more about Thales Alenia Space’s specialised satellites and what we’re finding out.
Weather satellites have played a central role in improving the accuracy of meteorological forecasts – and thus in the protection of goods and people – for decades. As climate change and global warming became major concerns, the science of climatology took centre stage, with climatology satellites playing a pivotal role in its progress.