The first of two satellites in a billion-dollar NASA-European project to accurately measure sea level rise, a major consequence of global warming, flew into orbit from California on Saturday at the summit of ‘a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
By timing how long it takes for radar beams entering clouds to bounce off the ocean 830 miles below, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite can track sea level with an accuracy of less than half -thumb to help scientists map the effects of warming over long periods of time.
Named after the late director of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division, “this is the satellite so beautiful that we built it twice,” said Josh Willis, project scientist, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. from NASA. “In five years we will be launching its successor, Sentinel-6B.”
“This is a huge deal for us climatologists because it means we can watch the oceans for 10 years in an unbroken record,” he said. “And this is the first time we’ve been able to build two in a row so we can throw them back to back and stretch the record much further than we’ve been able to do so far.”
The satellite’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded at 12:17 p.m. ET and was fired from Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angeles, ascending south to an orbit inclined at 66 degrees by relative to the equator.
It was the California manufacturer’s 22nd Falcon 9 flight so far this year and its 103rd overall, including three Falcon Heavy three-core boosters. This was Vandenber’s first Falcon 9 launch since June 2019.
After passing through the dense lower atmosphere, the first stage fell, turned, and flew to a landing near the launch pad to mark SpaceX’s 66th successful recovery stage, its fourth in California.
The second stage, for its part, carried out two engine shots to put the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite in the desired orbit.
The Sentinel-6 satellites will continue a decades-long effort by NASA, the European Space Agency, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to monitor sea level at over the past 30 years.
With the launch of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich and Sentinel-6B, these measurements will be extended into the 2030s. And the data collected so far is alarming for climatologists.
“You can see that the rate of increase is actually increasing,” Willis said. “So in the 1990s the sea level was rising about two millimeters a year. In the 2000s, it was more like three millimeters per year. And now it’s over four or nearly five millimeters a year.
More than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouses is used to warm the world’s oceans.
“So the oceans get warmer, the water expands, it’s about a third of the rise in sea level, the rest is due to the melting of glaciers and ice caps which react to the warming of the environment. ”Said Willis. “So these missions really give us our most important yardstick for measuring climate change and how it’s playing out on the planet.”
In addition to measuring the sea level around the planet, the new satellite will also monitor the temperature and humidity in the lower atmosphere as well as the stratosphere at higher altitudes using an instrument that measures atmospheric effects. on signals broadcast by navigation satellites.
But the main mission is to monitor the sea level on 90% of the world’s oceans.
“The dynamic equilibrium that persisted before the industrial revolution was upset by the almost instantaneous combustion of huge carbon stores as our society grew,” said Craig Donlon, the Agency’s project scientist. European space.
“We are seeing evidence of this dramatic change in many different measures… but it all points in the same direction: Earth is warming. And the biggest indicator of this earth system imbalance is the rise in sea level. ”