An Earth observation satellite is set to be launched from California next month.
The European-built spacecraft will deliver the most accurate sea levels measurements yet, helping scientists study how our oceans are changing in response to climate change.
The Maldives seen from space
The Indian Ocean nation is made up of some 1,200 islands. But with most of the country barely above sea level, it could one day be lost to the tides.
Sea level rise is being caused by warming of the ocean and melting from glaciers and ice sheets.
Scientists say even small changes in sea levels can lead to flooding and erosion.
This European-built satellite is set to carry out precise measurements of sea level changes.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich – as it’s known – is set to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 10th, onboard a SpaceX rocket.
Scientists conducted final testing of the spacecraft in an IABG clean room in Germany late last year, before it was shipped to the United States.
“Sea level is a very direct symptom of global warming, so it’s very important to measure it accurately,” explains project manager Pierrik Vuilleumier.
“And sea level increase is related to the melting of ice, of the poles, it’s also related to the accumulation of heat in the oceans, so these two elements together make the product of Sentinel-6 very relevant for the society.”
The mission is a collaboration between a number of agencies, including the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and NOAA.
The satellite is fitted with a radar altimeter which will make the most accurate sea levels measurements yet, claims ESA. Right down to the centimetre.
“It is giving us a good understanding of the heating of the ocean and how the oceans are rising in temperature, and giving us a view of the potential for how much more water is going to be in the ocean and how the sea level will rise,” says Sandra Kaufmann, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.
The satellite is named after NASA’s former director of Earth Science Division, Michael Freilich.
Its prime mission will last around five-and-a-half years.
A second identical satellite, named Sentinel-6B, is expected to be launched in 2025, giving scientists at least ten years of continuous data.