Setback for Climate Research from Space

Setback for Climate Research from Space

Susan Cosier
Published: 03/09/2009

Photograph courtesy of NASA

Like most things, satellites aren’t meant to last forever. The ones that track climate change will soon die out, and the next generation of orbiters isn’t scheduled to launch for at least five years, reported National Public Radio last Friday.

As climate-monitoring satellites age, they’ll stop providing data. Without new satellites in space to measure things like minute increases in sea level or decreases in ice thickness, scientists will have holes in the climate record, leaving them unable to see the consequences of climate change. And now that the world is beginning to experience the first effects of global warming, policy makers will have to speculate about what steps to take in order to mitigate damage.
 
"’We'll be blind for maybe a decade,’ says Kathy Kelly, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who depends on satellite data for her research.”

Two government agencies, NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both focus on climate, but neither has made it their first priority, said NASA climate scientist Bruce Wielicki in the piece. Budget cuts and infighting haven’t helped. In order to remedy the problem, the new NOAA head is planning on creating a new agency: the National Climate Service. That agency will be able to send new climate-change monitoring satellites into orbit in five to ten years.

NASA attempted to launch a carbon-sink monitoring satellite into space last month, as we reported here. Unfortunately, the mission failed and the satellite crashed back onto earth. Thankfully, the U.S. isn’t the only country collecting data. Japan sent a greenhouse gas detecting satellite into space in January.

The Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite, or GOSAT, “’is designed to observe the global distribution of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from space. I am convinced and excited that GOSAT will play an important role in the understanding of global warming,’ said Takashi Hamazaki,” the project manager in an article on space.com.

Obviously it’s important to space out, especially when a satellite’s orbit helps us learn more about our own planet.