NASA and NOAA keep the world in the loop about climate change and what weather is headed our way, but could mismanagement and penny-pinching leave us temporarily in the dark? Rob Steadman reports.
On the 21st of October 2011, the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) launched a new satellite, with technology vital to monitoring weather patterns and climate changes, which will yield information crucial to climate scientists.
This new satellite is welcomed amongst scientists but there are potential problems ahead as current weather satellites are ageing and insufficient.
The launch is part of the N.P.O.E.S.S. Preparatory Program, which stands for National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, but is referred to as NPP.
The NPP is a joint venture between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and is in essence, a means to bridge old technologies with new technologies.
The road to launch has been long and rocky. The idea was first laid out under the Clinton Administration and due to technical difficulties it has been set back until now.
The satellite was originally scheduled to launch in 2006. Now with budget cuts from the US Government, the head of NOAA, Dr Jane Lubchenco, voiced her concerns, saying that there would be a “satellite data gap” which could put lives at risk, as rescue services depend on information from these satellites.
Furthermore, inaccurate weather reporting may mean major weather events, like snow blizzards and climate change data, will not be adequately known about for a period of several years.
New technologies aboard the satellite include: Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, the Cross-track Infrared Sounder, the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite, and the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite; all giving accurate data about climate change and weather patterns.
These systems will provide data used internationally for TV, Radio, and Internet weather reports, and to maintain an accurate data stream they need to be maintained and replaced.
Current weather satellites are likely to wear out in 2016.
To ensure a data gap does not take place, the Obama Administration needs to secure additional funds of as much as $1 billion from Congress to sustain the programme.
Picture source: NASA/VAFB