The Biggest Earth-observing satellite of the World is getting ready for liftoff. The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft will be launched into Earth’s orbit on November 21 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, keeping a watchful eye on climate change’s dangerous side effect rising sea levels. It has an unprecedented vision of this deadly trend globally by seeing the World from space, which could help us fight it here on Earth. Melting glaciers and ice sheets have merged with seawater’s thermal expansion to increase sea levels at an unprecedented pace as global temperatures rise. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the global average sea level has grown by around 8-9 inches since 1880.
During a teleconference that was held on Tuesday, Parag Vaze, the NASA officer in charge of Earth project for the Sentinel-6 mission, said, ‘People have been involved in calculating sea level, they have been using dipsticks basically in the years after ships were out on the ocean and people were concerned about what is happening near the ocean.’ “But that is a difficult process to really understand what’s happening precisely across the world.” Instead, Vaze says that when attempting to get a clearer picture of the global impact of rising sea levels, satellite remote sensing really is the way to go. Sentinel-6, in effect, is not the first of its kind. For years, space agencies have been studying the impacts on our World of changing global temperatures.
Sentinel-6 is a collaborative mission between NASA and the European Space Agency, the European Meteorological Satellite Exploitation Corporation, and the Oceanic and Atmospheric National Administration. Two similar spacecraft, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich and Sentinel-6B are included in the Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission, which will be launched five years apart and provide scientists with data at least 2030. The new Earth-observing satellites draw on the tradition of the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission of ESA, which was first launched in 2014 and remained the most ambitious Earth observation program to date, PALE BLUE DOT.
“Understanding as well as quantifying what is happening with the ocean is difficult to do. It’s changing slowly, but it is changing,” said Vaze. “And the understanding of how quickly that’s changing requires a measurement that’s very accurate and consistent.” Satellites have an unmatched perspective when floating in space, allowing them to capture reliable and detailed data. The radar altimeter instrument of Sentinel-6 measures the distance between the satellite and Earth by calculating the time it takes for Earth’s surface to reflect a transmitted radar pulse. A waveform that is then processed to calculate the height of the surface of the water and the height of the wave, as well as the surface wind strength from the roughness of the ocean, is given by the returned echo pulse from the sea surface.