The US space agency along with the European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully launched a satellite to monitor rising global sea level.
The joint US-European satellite built to monitor global sea levels lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California late on Saturday.
About the size of a small pickup truck, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite will extend a nearly 30-year continuous dataset on sea level collected by an ongoing collaboration of US and European satellites, while enhancing weather forecasts and providing detailed information on large-scale ocean currents to support ship navigation near coastlines.
“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.”
The spacecraft is named in honour of Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, who was a leading figure in advancing ocean observations from space.
“Freilich 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 Josef Aschbacher, ESA (European Space Agency) Director of Earth Observation Programmes.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will continue the sea level record that began in 1992 with the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite and continued with Jason-1 (2001), OSTM/Jason-2 (2008), and eventually Jason-3, which has been observing the oceans since 2016.
The satellite will be followed in 2025 by its twin, Sentinel-6B.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Whether 800 miles above Earth with this remarkable spacecraft or traveling to Mars to look for signs of life, whether providing farmers with agricultural data or aiding first responders with our disasters programme, we are tirelessly committed not just to learning and exploring, but to having an impact where it’s needed”.
“The data from this satellite, which is so critical for climate monitoring and weather forecasting, will be of unprecedented accuracy,” said EUMETSAT Director-General Alain Ratier.
Global sea level is rising approximately 0.13 inches (3.3 millimeters) a year. That’s 30 per cent more than when NASA launched its first satellite mission to measure ocean heights in 1992.