Magazine article Foreign Policy

European Earth Observation Satellites

Magazine article Foreign Policy

European Earth Observation Satellites

Article excerpt

European space technology is producing practical results that bolster EU policymakers' ability to deal with global challenges, including weather-related natural disasters and the impact of climate change.

MetOp--Improved Weather Forecasting. Launched in October 2006, MetOp is Europe's first polar-orbiting satellite dedicated to operational meteorology. It represents the European contribution to the new Initial Joint Polar System (UPS), an agreement between EUMETSAT and the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide data to monitor climate and improve weather forecasting.

A joint venture of ESA and EUMETSAT, MetOp is a series of three satellites to be launched sequentially over 14 years, forming the space segment of EUMETSAT'S Polar System.

MetOp carries instruments provided by the U.S. as well as a new generation of European instruments that offer improved accuracy of temperature humidity measurements, readings of wind speed and direction, and atmospheric ozone profiles. Such augmented data have been used to monitor tropical cyclones and will be vital in monitoring extra-tropical winter storms.

Vital Data on the Polar Regions. ESA's Envisat, the largest earth observation spacecraft ever built, carries ten sophisticated optical and radar instruments that continuously observe and monitor the Earth's land, atmosphere, oceans, and ice caps. Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) sensor is particularly well suited for monitoring polar regions because it can acquire images through clouds and darkness.

Long-term satellite monitoring over polar regions provides authoritative evidence of climate trends and allows scientists to make predictions. Envisat and an earlier generation satellite, ERS, have been providing information on the Arctic region for the past 17 years--long-term data sets that are key to implementing EU policy on the Arctic region.

In Antarctica, scientists warn that the April 2009 collapse of the ice bridge that connected Wilkins Ice Shelf to Charcot Island may lead to a situation that could put the entire ice shelf at risk of further disintegration. Envisat surveys the area daily to monitor developments and disseminate up-to-the-minute information. …

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