NASA oceanographic and atmospheric satellites set for launch
A satellite sent into space Friday designed to keep watch on the ocean phenomenon El Nino will complement the sea-surface data taken from the oceans of the world, a regional climatologist said Monday.
“When you have something like El Ni-o, some places (in the Pacific Ocean) are higher than by as much as a foot,” said Kelly Redmond of the Western Regional Climate Center. The Jason 1 satellite may calibrate water depth down to a centimeter, Redmond added.
Beyond the areas in the Pacific Ocean where scientists monitor El Ni-o, the Jason 1 satellite can also watch the ocean currents off the California coastline, the El Ni-o specialist said.
The satellite, launched from a Delta II rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Friday morning, .
Another satellite, the Timed, will serve to probe the outer limits of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The rocket first deployed Jason 1, a collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and its French counterpart, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales.
Mission members plan for the French-built satellite to initially work in tandem with, and then replace, the Topex/Poseidon satellite in monitoring how the oceans and atmosphere interact to affect global climate.
Since its launch in 1992, Topex/Poseidon has used radar to measure the topography, or shape, of the surface of the world’s oceans, as well as surface wind speeds and wave heights.
From that data, scientists have improved their models of ocean circulation and monitored events like El Ni-o, where large masses of warm water pool in the eastern Pacific Ocean, bulging upward as much as 16 inches and wreaking havoc on weather.
Jason 1 should continue that work, but improve the accuracy of the ocean height measurements. The satellite is also trimmer: at 1,100 pounds, it weighs one-fifth as much as the spacecraft it will replace.
“Jason 1 will be a tremendous asset to our oceanography program,” said Ghassem Asrar, NASA’s associated administrator for Earth science. NASA contributed $175 million to the mission.
For its first six months, Jason 1 will fly in tandem with Topex/Poseidon and then assume the older spacecraft’s flight path. The mission is slated to last three years.
The $235 million Timed satellite is designed to orbit 388 miles above the Earth, where it can study the portion of the Earth’s atmosphere where energy from the sun is first deposited into the environment.
The satellite’s four instruments aim to study the region’s chemical composition, temperature, fluctuations in energy levels, winds and structure.
“Compared to other layers of our atmosphere, we know very little about this region, which is located just a few miles above our heads,” said Sam Yee, the Timed project scientist at Johns Hopkins University, NASA’s partner in the mission.
On the Net:
Jason 1 http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/
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