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NASA’s New Mission Will Track Rising Sea Levels Into 2030

Climate change is for real, and the oceanography is the key to understanding the impacts of those changes on our future. Now, U.S. and European agencies have teamed up to launch a 10-year satellite mission in an effort to keep studying the most evident sign of global warming — sea level rise. Dubbed as the Sentinel-6/Jason-CS mission, the mission is expected to be the longest-running mission, aimed at solving one problem: How much will the sea level rise by 2030?

Sentinel-6/Jason-CS will add to almost 40 years of ocean level records by 2030, giving us the most definitive, most accurate measure of how humans are changing the planet and its atmosphere. The mission includes two indistinguishable satellites–Sentinel-6A and Sentinel-6B–projected to launch five years apart. Sentinel-6A is scheduled to launch in November 2020 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Like its predecessors—U.S.-European backed TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason-1, Ocean Surface Topography/Jason-2, and Jason-3 satellite missions—the main objective of the Sentinel-6/Jason-CS satellite mission is to measure the sea level rise over the last 30 years. The information collected by those missions has indicated that sea levels are mounting by an average of 0.1 inches per year. Along with continuing that work, Sentinel-6/Jason-CS will also study the changes in weather patterns, ocean circulation, climate changeability such as storms and tornadoes, as well as natural phenomena like El Niño and La Niña.

Josh Willis, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “Human influence on the climate change is evident and overwhelming, and the rising global sea levels is, in fact, the most apparent measure of how human-led activates are changing the climate.”

“In case you give a thought about it, global sea-level rise means more than 70% of Earth’s surface is changing shape, growing, and getting taller. This means that the entire planet is changing and that’s what we are measuring,” he added.

Studies–including space and ground-based observations–conducted throughout the last few decades have documented the global temperature level that is rising at an unprecedented rate. The oceans stabilize the climate by absorbing more than 90 percent of the globe’s excess heat trapped by key greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, that have been discharged into the environment since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

With the oceans heating up, they start expanding by melting the ice sheets and glaciers, ultimately increasing the volume of water and contributing more to the sea level rise. Every year, sea levels are rising at an increasing rate and it is expected to continue accelerating in the coming years.

The satellite will measure the amount (in millimeters) at which the sea levels are rising during the next decade and how fast that rise accelerates. With the accelerating rate, humans will have to endure the effects of rising sea levels, including flooding, hurricanes, coastal erosion, tornadoes, as well as the adverse impacts on marine life.

The satellite will also provide datasets that will help in collecting high-resolution vertical profiles of humidity and temperature, as well as measuring climate changes and predicting weather patterns. Along with these measurements, the satellite will gather data related to oceans every 10 days, providing an in-depth analysis of natural ocean events like El Niño and La Niña.

Willis said: “Global sea-level rise is one of the most expensive and problematic effects of environmental change that there is. In our lifetimes, we’re not going to see the level fall by a significant amount. We’re actually mapping how much sea level rise we’re going to have to deal with for the next decades.”

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