Dozens of New Satellites Planned to Monitor Climate

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 21, 2008 (ENS) – An international strategy for deployment of dozens of new satellites to help scientists better understand global warming got a boost Wednesday as the world’s space and meteorological agencies gave their support to the World Meteorological Organization proposal at a high-level space conference.

Approval came at the end of the two day meeting last week in New Orleans, Louisiana attended by top officials of space agencies from across the world.

Participants in the annual WMO Consultative Meetings on High-level Policy on Satellite Matters expressed readiness to help foster international cooperation towards an enhanced global satellite system for the coming decades.

“There is a major societal need to further develop the capacity of satellites to monitor even more accurately climate and weather,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

At least 16 geostationary and low-Earth orbit satellites currently provide operational data on the planet’s climate and weather as part of the Global Observing System.

They are complemented by numerous experimental satellites designed for scientific missions or instrument technology demonstration. A record number of 17 satellites are planned for launch in 2008 to further strengthen the Global Observing System.

CBERS-2, the Sino-Brazilian
satellite monitoring the
environment (Photo courtesy

Satellite data shows that in 2006, globally averaged concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere reached their highest levels ever recorded.

After water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the three most prevalent greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are major drivers of global warming and climate change.

Satellites have been used for decades to monitor climatic and weather conditions. But better integration of satellites and the constant refinement of their capabilities are crucial to keep check on the effects of climate change, such as atmospheric changes, sea-level rise and desertification.

This can only be achieved through increased cooperation and data exchange among nations, which is at the heart of the WMO plan.

The meeting also received the first contribution by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais), which operates a joint satellite program with China monitoring the environment.

Brazil provided data and products from its space observations over South America, Africa and China, which will be freely available to WMO’s 188 member nations.

Gilberto Camara, director of the National Institute for Space Research, has said that Brazil and China will also supply the software needed to allow Earth stations to read the data supplied by the satellites.

The first station, based in South Africa, began receiving data in December Camara said, and this will be followed by a station in Kenya at the beginning of 2008, and the Canary Island and Matera, Italy, in June.

He said supplying the satellite images would be “invaluable” for African governments and organizations in particular so they could respond more effectively to natural disasters, deforestation and drought, as well as threats to agricultural production and food security.

The WMO said there has been “major progress” on the International Geostationary Laboratory to use satellites for highly elliptical orbits. The WMO runs this lab, which allows the satellites to provide almost permanent coverage of high-latitude areas for weather, ice and snow monitoring, as well as for telecommunications and data collection.

The meeting received a draft set of guidelines developed for the transition of successful research and development satellites into more permanent, operational missions. Guidelines will be submitted to the WMO Executive Council for approval.

The meeting was briefed on the start of the Regional Specialized Satellite Centre in Climate Monitoring, which the WMO says is necessary for the continuous and sustained provision of high quality essential climate variables satellite products on a global scale.

A remarkable development in 2007 was the launch by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of CarbonTracker, a global carbon cycle modeling tool that converts surface-based global greenhouse gas observations into best estimates of global distribution in the atmosphere and the net air-surface exchange of carbon dioxide.

The goal of the space-based component of the Global Observing System is to meet the observation needs of all WMO programs dealing with weather, climate, water, the atmosphere, and disaster prevention and mitigation.

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