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NASA Launches a Satellite to Track Sea Level Rise

NASA has launched a satellite that will collect information on the world’s oceans to improve weather forecasting and document sea level rise. 

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launched from California on November 21. It is the first of two satellites which will see NASA and the European Space Agency’s research on global sea levels go into the next decade. The second satellite, the Sentinel-6B, will be launched in about five years. 

In order to measure sea level rise, the satellite will beam electromagnetic signals to the oceans and then measure how long it takes for them to bounce back. 

The new satellite will allow researchers to make higher-resolution observations much closer to shore, which will allow more precise weather forecasts, especially just before storms make landfall. As a storm develops over the sea, the water rises; a satellite can then pick up on that rising water and use that information for forecasts. The information will also be used to inform researchers on how best to adapt to rising sea levels, which will force millions of people to leave their homes or countries. 

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Due to climate change, sea levels are rising around the world. According to the NOAA, global mean sea level has risen about 21-24 cm since 1880, with nearly a third of this coming in the last 25 years. From 2018 to 2019, global sea level rose 6.1mm. This is mostly due to seawater expanding as it warms, as well as meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets. This will make flooding and storm surges more frequent and dangerous.

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of science at NASA, says, “The question of whether the oceans go up or not [as the planet heats up] has been settled by these satellites, it’s not a question. Just as sure as gravity right here where I’m sitting, these oceans are going up and we need to handle what that does to our lives.”

Zurbuchen adds, “ What the question today is, what’s the impact [of sea level rise] and what can we do about it? Those are the questions that matter to my family, to my friends, to all of our families because they affect how our families can live in the future.”

Featured image by: NASA