The weather satellite is a type of satellite that is primarily used to monitor the weather and climate of the Earth. Satellites can be polar orbiting, covering the entire Earth asynchronously, or geostationary, hovering over the same spot on the equator.
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object that has been intentionally placed into orbit. These objects are called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as Earth's Moon.
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the lowest level of the atmosphere, the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate is the term for the averaging of atmospheric conditions over longer periods of time. When used without qualification, "weather" is generally understood to mean the weather of Earth.
Climate is defined as the average state of everyday's weather condition over a period of 30 years. It is measured by assessing the patterns of variation in temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, precipitation, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological variables in a given region over long periods of time. Climate differs from weather, in that weather only describes the short-term conditions of these variables in a given region.
Meteorological satellites see more than clouds and cloud systems: city lights, fires, effects of pollution, auroras, sand and dust storms, snow cover, ice mapping, boundaries of ocean currents, energy flows, etc. Other types of environmental information are collected using weather satellites. Weather satellite images helped in monitoring the volcanic ash cloud from Mount St. Helens and activity from other volcanoes such as Mount Etna.Smoke from fires in the western United States such as Colorado and Utah have also been monitored.
A dust storm is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions. Dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface. Fine particles are transported by saltation and suspension, a process that moves soil from one place and deposits it in another.
An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of sea water generated by a number of forces acting upon the water, including wind, the Coriolis effect, breaking waves, cabbeling, and temperature and salinity differences. Depth contours, shoreline configurations, and interactions with other currents influence a current's direction and strength. Ocean currents are primarily horizontal water movements.
Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located in Skamania County, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Portland, Oregon and 96 miles (154 km) south of Seattle, Washington. Mount St. Helens takes its English name from the British diplomat Lord St Helens, a friend of explorer George Vancouver who made a survey of the area in the late 18th century. The volcano is located in the Cascade Range and is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc, a segment of the Pacific Ring of Fire that includes over 160 active volcanoes. This volcano is well known for its ash explosions and pyroclastic flows.
Other environmental satellites can detect changes in the Earth's vegetation, sea state, ocean color, and ice fields. For example, the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the northwest coast of Spain was watched carefully by the European ENVISAT, which, though not a weather satellite, flies an instrument (ASAR) which can see changes in the sea surface.
In oceanography, sea state is the general condition of the free surface on a large body of water—with respect to wind waves and swell—at a certain location and moment. A sea state is characterized by statistics, including the wave height, period, and power spectrum. The sea state varies with time, as the wind conditions or swell conditions change. The sea state can either be assessed by an experienced observer, like a trained mariner, or through instruments like weather buoys, wave radar or remote sensing satellites.
The Prestigeoil spill occurred off the coast of Galicia, Spain, caused by the sinking of the 26 year old structurally deficient oil tanker MV Prestige in November 2002, carrying 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. During a storm, it burst a tank on November 13, and sank on November 19, 2002, about 130 miles (210 km) from the coast of Galicia. It is estimated that it spilled 17.8 million US gallons (420,000 bbl) of heavy fuel oil. The spill polluted thousands of kilometers of coastline and more than one thousand beaches on the Spanish, French and Portuguese coast, as well as causing great harm to the local fishing industry. The spill is the largest environmental disaster in the history of both Spain and Portugal. The amount of oil spilled was more than the Exxon Valdez incident and the toxicity considered higher, because of the higher water temperatures.
El Niño and its effects on weather are monitored daily from satellite images. The Antarctic ozone hole is mapped from weather satellite data. Collectively, weather satellites flown by the U.S., Europe, India, China, Russia, and Japan provide nearly continuous observations for a global weather watch.
El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, including the area off the Pacific coast of South America. The ENSO is the cycle of warm and cold sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. El Niño phases are known to occur close to four years, however, records demonstrate that the cycles have lasted between two and seven years. During the development of El Niño, rainfall develops between September–November. The cool phase of ENSO is La Niña, with SSTs in the eastern Pacific below average, and air pressure high in the eastern Pacific and low in the western Pacific. The ENSO cycle, including both El Niño and La Niña, causes global changes in temperature and rainfall.
As early as 1946, the idea of cameras in orbit to observe the weather was being developed. This was due to sparse data observation coverage and the expense of using cloud cameras on rockets. By 1958, the early prototypes for TIROS and Vanguard (developed by the Army Signal Corps) were created. 17, 1959. It was designed to measure cloud cover and resistance, but a poor axis of rotation and its elliptical orbit kept it from collecting a notable amount of useful data. The Explorer VI and VII satellites also contained weather-related experiments.The first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, was launched on February
Vanguard 2 or Vanguard II is an Earth-orbiting satellite launched February 17, 1959, aboard a Vanguard SLV 4 rocket as part of the United States Navy's Project Vanguard. The success of this launch was an important part of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Vanguard 2 was the first weather satellite. The satellite was designed to measure cloud-cover distribution over the daylight portion of its orbit, for a period of 19 days, and to provide information on the density of the atmosphere for the lifetime of its orbit.
The first weather satellite to be considered a success was TIROS-1, launched by NASA on April 1, 1960. TIROS operated for 78 days and proved to be much more successful than Vanguard 2. TIROS paved the way for the Nimbus program, whose technology and findings are the heritage of most of the Earth-observing satellites NASA and NOAA have launched since then. Beginning with the Nimbus 3 satellite in 1969, temperature information through the tropospheric column began to be retrieved by satellites from the eastern Atlantic and most of the Pacific Ocean, which led to significant improvements to weather forecasts.
TIROS I was the first successful low-Earth orbital weather satellite, and the first of a series of Television Infrared Observation Satellites.
The Nimbus satellites were second-generation U.S. robotic spacecraft used for meteorological research and development. The spacecraft were designed to serve as stabilized, Earth-oriented platforms for the testing of advanced systems to sense and collect atmospheric science data. Seven Nimbus spacecraft have been launched into near-polar, sun-synchronous orbits beginning with Nimbus 1 on August 28, 1964. On board the Nimbus satellites are various instrumentation for imaging, sounding, and other studies in different spectral regions. The Nimbus satellites were launched aboard Thor-Agena rockets and Delta rockets.
The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere, and is also where nearly all weather conditions take place. It contains approximately 75% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of the total mass of water vapor and aerosols. The average height of the troposphere is 18 km in the tropics, 17 km in the middle latitudes, and 6 km in the polar regions in winter. The total average height of the troposphere is 13 km.
The ESSA and NOAA polar orbiting satellites followed suit from the late 1960s onward. Geostationary satellites followed, beginning with the ATS and SMS series in the late 1960s and early 1970s, then continuing with the GOES series from the 1970s onward. Polar orbiting satellites such as QuikScat and TRMM began to relay wind information near the ocean's surface starting in the late 1970s, with microwave imagery which resembled radar displays, which significantly improved the diagnoses of tropical cyclone strength, intensification, and location during the 2000s and 2010s.
Observation is typically made via different 'channels' of the electromagnetic spectrum, in particular, the visible and infrared portions.
Some of these channels include:
Visible-light images from weather satellites during local daylight hours are easy to interpret even by the average person; clouds, cloud systems such as fronts and tropical storms, lakes, forests, mountains, snow ice, fires, and pollution such as smoke, smog, dust and haze are readily apparent. Even wind can be determined by cloud patterns, alignments and movement from successive photos.
The thermal or infrared images recorded by sensors called scanning radiometers enable a trained analyst to determine cloud heights and types, to calculate land and surface water temperatures, and to locate ocean surface features. Infrared satellite imagery can be used effectively for tropical cyclones with a visible eye pattern, using the Dvorak technique, where the difference between the temperature of the warm eye and the surrounding cold cloud tops can be used to determine its intensity (colder cloud tops generally indicate a more intense storm).Infrared pictures depict ocean eddies or vortices and map currents such as the Gulf Stream which are valuable to the shipping industry. Fishermen and farmers are interested in knowing land and water temperatures to protect their crops against frost or increase their catch from the sea. Even El Niño phenomena can be spotted. Using color-digitized techniques, the gray shaded thermal images can be converted to color for easier identification of desired information.
Each meteorological satellite is designed to use one of two different classes of orbit: geostationary and polar orbiting.
Geostationary weather satellites orbit the Earth above the equator at altitudes of 35,880 km (22,300 miles). Because of this orbit, they remain stationary with respect to the rotating Earth and thus can record or transmit images of the entire hemisphere below continuously with their visible-light and infrared sensors. The news media use the geostationary photos in their daily weather presentation as single images or made into movie loops. These are also available on the city forecast pages of www.noaa.gov (example Dallas, TX).
Several geostationary meteorological spacecraft are in operation. The United States has five in operation; GOES-12, GOES-13, GOES-15, GOES-16 and GOES-17. GOES-12, previously designated GOES-East and now used for South America, is located at 60 degrees west.GOES-13 took over the role of GOES-East on April 14, 2010 and is located at 75 degrees west. GOES-11 was GOES-West over the eastern Pacific Ocean until it was decommissioned December 2011 and replaced by GOES-15. GOES-16 and-17 remain stationary over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, respectively.
Russia's new-generation weather satellite Elektro-L No.1 operates at 76°E over the Indian Ocean. The Japanese have the MTSAT-2 located over the mid Pacific at 145°E and the Himawari 8 at 140°E. The Europeans have four in operation, Meteosat-8 (3.5°W) and Meteosat-9 (0°) over the Atlantic Ocean and have Meteosat-6 (63°E) and Meteosat-7 (57.5°E) over the Indian Ocean. China currently has three Fengyun (风云) geostationary satellites (FY-2E at 86.5°E, FY-2F at 123.5°E, and FY-2G at 105°E) operated.India also operates geostationary satellites called INSAT which carry instruments for meteorological purposes.
Polar orbiting weather satellites circle the Earth at a typical altitude of 850 km (530 miles) in a north to south (or vice versa) path, passing over the poles in their continuous flight. Polar orbiting weather satellites are in sun-synchronous orbits, which means they are able to observe any place on Earth and will view every location twice each day with the same general lighting conditions due to the near-constant local solar time. Polar orbiting weather satellites offer a much better resolution than their geostationary counterparts due their closeness to the Earth.
The United States has the NOAA series of polar orbiting meteorological satellites, presently NOAA-15, NOAA-18 and NOAA-19 (POES) and NOAA-20 (JPSS). Europe has the Metop-A and Metop-B satellites operated by EUMETSAT. Russia has the Meteor and RESURS series of satellites. China has FY-3A, 3B and 3C. India has polar orbiting satellites as well.
The United States Department of Defense's Meteorological Satellite (DMSP) can "see" the best of all weather vehicles with its ability to detect objects almost as 'small' as a huge oil tanker. In addition, of all the weather satellites in orbit, only DMSP can "see" at night in the visual. Some of the most spectacular photos have been recorded by the night visual sensor; city lights, volcanoes, fires, lightning, meteors, oil field burn-offs, as well as the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis have been captured by this 450-mile-high space vehicle's low moonlight sensor.
At the same time, energy use and city growth can be monitored since both major and even minor cities, as well as highway lights, are conspicuous. This informs astronomers of light pollution. The New York City Blackout of 1977 was captured by one of the night orbiter DMSP space vehicles.
In addition to monitoring city lights, these photos are a life saving asset in the detection and monitoring of fires. Not only do the satellites see the fires visually day and night, but the thermal and infrared scanners on board these weather satellites detect potential fire sources below the surface of the Earth where smoldering occurs. Once the fire is detected, the same weather satellites provide vital information about wind that could fan or spread the fires. These same cloud photos from space tell the firefighter when it will rain.
Some of the most dramatic photos showed the 600 Kuwaiti oil fires that the fleeing Army of Iraq started on February 23, 1991. The night photos showed huge flashes, far outstripping the glow of large populated areas. The fires consumed millions of gallons of oil; the last was doused on November 6, 1991.
Snowfield monitoring, especially in the Sierra Nevada, can be helpful to the hydrologist keeping track of available snowpack for runoff vital to the watersheds of the western United States. This information is gleaned from existing satellites of all agencies of the U.S. government (in addition to local, on-the-ground measurements). Ice floes, packs and bergs can also be located and tracked from weather space craft.
Even pollution whether it is nature-made or man-made can be pinpointed. The visual and infrared photos show effects of pollution from their respective areas over the entire earth. Aircraft and rocket pollution, as well as condensation trails, can also be spotted. The ocean current and low level wind information gleaned from the space photos can help predict oceanic oil spill coverage and movement. Almost every summer, sand and dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa drifts across the equatorial regions of the Atlantic Ocean. GOES-EAST photos enable meteorologists to observe, track and forecast this sand cloud. In addition to reducing visibilities and causing respiratory problems, sand clouds suppress hurricane formation by modifying the solar radiation balance of the tropics. Other dust storms in Asia and mainland China are common and easy to spot and monitor, with recent examples of dust moving across the Pacific Ocean and reaching North America.
In remote areas of the world with few local observers, fires could rage out of control for days or even weeks and consume millions of acres before authorities are alerted. Weather satellites can be a tremendous asset in such situations. Nighttime photos also show the burn-off in gas and oil fields. Atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles have been taken by weather satellites since 1969.
An Earth observation satellite or Earth remote sensing satellite is satellite specifically designed for Earth observation from orbit, similar to spy satellites but intended for non-military uses such as environmental monitoring, meteorology, map making etc. The first occurrence of satellite remote sensing can be dated to the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. Sputnik 1 sent back radio signals, which scientists used to study the ionosphere. NASA launched the first American satellite, Explorer 1, in January 31, 1958. The information sent back from its radiation detector led to the discovery of the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts. The TIROS-1 spacecraft, launched on April 1, 1960 as part of NASA's TIROS Program, sent back the first television footage of weather patterns to be taken from space. As of 2008, more than 150 Earth observation satellites were in orbit, recording data with both passive and active sensors and acquiring more than 10 terabits of data daily.
The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system (GOES), operated by the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service division, supports weather forecasting, severe storm tracking, and meteorology research. Spacecraft and ground-based elements of the system work together to provide a continuous stream of environmental data. The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Meteorological Service of Canada use the GOES system for their North American weather monitoring and forecasting operations, and scientific researchers use the data to better understand land, atmosphere, ocean, and climate interactions.
The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) is an intergovernmental organisation created through an international convention agreed by a current total of 30 European Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. These States fund the EUMETSAT programs and are the principal users of the systems. The convention establishing EUMETSAT was opened for signature in 1983 and entered into force on 19 June 1986.
The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) monitors meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-terrestrial physics for the United States Department of Defense. The program is managed by the Air Force Space Command with on-orbit operations provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The mission of the satellites was revealed in March 1973. They provide cloud cover imagery from polar orbits that are Sun-synchronous at nominal altitude of 450 nautical miles (830 km).
The Meteosat series of satellites are geostationary meteorological satellites operated by EUMETSAT under the Meteosat Transition Programme (MTP) and the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) program.
EUMETCast is a scheme for dissemination of various meteorological data operated by EUMETSAT, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. The main purpose is the dissemination of EUMETSAT's own data, but various data from other providers are broadcast as well. EUMETCast is a contribution to GEONETCast and IGDDS and provides data for GEOSS and GMES.
The Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) system is an analog image transmission system developed for use on weather satellites. It was introduced in the 1960s and over four decades has provided image data to relatively low-cost user stations at locations in most countries of the world. A user station anywhere in the world can receive local data at least twice a day from each satellite as it passes nearly overhead.
MetOp is a series of three polar orbiting meteorological satellites developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and operated by the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). The satellites form the space segment component of the overall EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS), which in turn is the European half of the EUMETSAT/NOAA Initial Joint Polar System (IJPS). The satellites carry a payload comprising 11 scientific instruments and two which support Cospas-Sarsat Search and Rescue services. In order to provide data continuity between MetOp and NOAA Polar Operational Satellites (POES), several instruments are carried on both fleets of satellites.
The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) was created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to operate and manage the United States environmental satellite programs, and manage the data gathered by the National Weather Service and other government agencies and departments.
GOES 1, designated GOES-A and SMS-C prior to entering service, was a weather satellite operated by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the first Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite to be launched.
The Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) was a constellation of polar orbiting weather satellites funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) with the intent of improving the accuracy and detail of weather analysis and forecasting. The Spacecraft were provided by NASA and the European Space Agency, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center oversaw the manufacture, integration and test of the NASA-provided TIROS satellites. The first polar-orbiting weather satellite launched as part of the POES constellation was the Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS), which was launched on April 1, 1960. The final spacecraft, NOAA-19, was launched in February 2009. The ESA-provided MetOp satellite operated by EUMETSAT utilize POES-heritage instruments for the purpose of data continuity. The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which was launched on November 18, 2017, is the successor to the POES Program.
Meteosat 8 is a weather satellite, also known as MSG 1. The Meteosat series are operated by EUMETSAT under the Meteosat Transition Programme (MTP) and the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) program. Notable for imaging the first meteor to be predicted to strike the earth, 2008 TC3. Launched 28 Aug 2002 by an Ariane V155, this European Meteorology satellite is in a Geostationary orbit.
GOES 7, known as GOES-H before becoming operational, is an American satellite. It was originally built as a weather satellite, and formed part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system. Originally built as a ground spare, GOES-H was launched in 1987 due to delays with the next series of satellites. It was operated by NOAA until 1999, before being leased to Peacesat, who use it as a communications satellite. As of 2009, it was operational over the Pacific Ocean, providing communications for the Pacific Islands. On April 12, 2012, the spacecraft was finally decommissioned and moved to a graveyard orbit.
The Antarctic Meteorological Research Center (AMRC) is an Antarctic research program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that is based out of the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) at the University of Wisconsin. The AMRC was founded as a link between the UW-Madison automatic weather station (AWS) project and the Man computer Interactive Data Access System (McIDAS) project, also at UW-Madison.
The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is the latest generation of U.S. polar-orbiting, non-geosynchronous, environmental satellites. JPSS will provide the global environmental data used in numerical weather prediction models for forecasts, and scientific data used for climate monitoring. JPSS will aid in fulfilling the mission of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the Department of Commerce. Data and imagery obtained from the JPSS will increase timeliness and accuracy of public warnings and forecasts of climate and weather events, thus reducing the potential loss of human life and property and advancing the national economy. The JPSS is developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is responsible for operation of JPSS. Three to five satellites are planned for the JPSS constellation of satellites. JPSS satellites will be flown, and the scientific data from JPSS will be processed, by the JPSS - Common Ground System (JPSS-CGS).
GOES-16, formerly known as GOES-R before reaching geostationary orbit, is the first of the GOES-R series of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). GOES-16 serves as the operational geostationary weather satellite in the GOES East position at 75.2°W, providing a view centered on the Americas. GOES-16 provides high spatial and temporal resolution imagery of the Earth through 16 spectral bands at visible and infrared wavelengths using its Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). GOES-16's Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) is the first operational lightning mapper flown in geostationary orbit. The spacecraft also includes four other scientific instruments for monitoring space weather and the Sun.
Sentinel-4 is a satellite mission making up a part of the European Copernicus Programme, which is also known as the European Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme. Sentinel-4 will utilize 2 payload instruments integrated on board a Meteosat Third Generation Sounder (MTG-S) satellite to observe primarily the tropospheric composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. The data will be gathered and made available to the Copernicus program with the aim of contributing to air quality applications such as with the Copernicus Atmosphere Services as well as the air quality monitoring over the regions of Europe and Northern Africa. As with other aspects of the Copernicus programme, the Sentinel-4 initiative is funded mostly through the EU and the technical design and development has been put under responsibility of the European Space Agency (ESA).
GOES-17 is the second of the current generation of weather satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The four satellites of the series will extend the availability of the GOES until 2036 for weather forecast and meteorology research. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin, was based on the A2100A platform, and will have an expected useful life of 15 years. The satellite was launched on 1 March 2018 and reached geostationary orbit on 12 March 2018. GOES-17 aims to deliver high-resolution visible and infrared imagery and lightning observations of more than half the globe. In May 2018, during the satellite's testing phase after launch, a problem was discovered with its primary instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager. GOES-17 became operational as GOES-West on 12 February 2019. GOES-17 is currently operating alongside GOES-15 but will replace it in July 2019.
NOAA-20, designated JPSS-1 prior to launch, is the first of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest generation of U.S. polar-orbiting, non-geosynchronous, environmental satellites called the Joint Polar Satellite System. NOAA-20 was launched on November 18, 2017 and joined the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite in the same orbit. NOAA-20 operates about 50 minutes ahead of Suomi NPP, allowing important overlap in observational coverage. Circling the Earth from pole-to-pole, it crosses the equator about 14 times daily, providing full global coverage twice a day. This will give meteorologists information on "atmospheric temperature and moisture, clouds, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, sea ice cover, volcanic ash, and fire detection" so as to enhance weather forecasting including hurricane tracking, post-hurricane recovery by detailing storm damage and mapping of power outages.
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