Loss of satellite could leave gaps in climate research
The European Space Agency lost contact with its Earth-observing satellite in April. The satellite provided crucial data used for climate change and earth science research.
As the European Space Agency (ESA) loses hope of recovering the largest Earth-observing satellite ever built, it is unclear how the organization will fill the gaps in data crucial to climate change and earth science research.
Launched a decade ago, the eight-tonne satellite, Envisat, has circled the earth more than 50,000 times providing data for about 2,000 scientific publications.
Envisat uses advanced radar that sees through clouds and darkness, a capability particularly important over polar regions, which experience long periods of darkness and bad weather. The radar monitors sea ice levels and observed record-low sea ice cover in the Arctic last summer. Other instruments can monitor oil spills, sea-surface height, and the ozone. Without Envisat, Japan’s Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite is the only satellite to have the capabilities to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to the scientific journal Nature.
ESA lost contact with the satellite nearly a month ago when the satellite unexpectedly stopped sending data. The satellite is still in orbit and ESA is working with the international space community to reconnect.
ESA plans to launch five more satellites over the next decade, but the loss of Envisat could leave an information gap of several years. Envisat had already doubled its expected five-year lifetime, but ESA had hoped to keep it in use for a few more. In 2010, ESA changed Envisat's orbit to allow it to continue operating until the new satellites are operational.
“Continuity for a climate record is extremely important,” Fred Prata, a climate scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air, told Nature.