A quantum leap in the amount of data available about the state of the Earth’s oceans is currently underway. The European Copernicus project is harnessing cooperation from around the globe to bring benefits for weather forecasting, understanding of our climate, health and safety and business.
EUMETSAT, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, has been delivering observations of the Earth’s oceans for many years from its own fleet of satellites and through cooperative missions with partner agencies. The amount of satellite data about our oceans and seas has recently increased significantly, through the EUMETSAT’s key role in the EU’s Copernicus environment monitoring programme.
” Only satellites can provide a global view of the state of the Earth’s oceans. They are a unique source of highly accurate global measurements of sea state and winds, sea level, temperature, ocean colour and sea ice. ”
Only satellites can provide a global view of the state of the Earth’s oceans. They are a unique source of highly accurate global measurements of sea state and winds, sea level, temperature, ocean colour – which tells us about sediment and chlorophyll levels in the sea, for example – and the amount of sea ice.
One aspect of EUMETSAT’s involvement in the Copernicus programme is our operation of Sentinel-3 – part of the fleet of Copernicus satellites – and the dissemination of its marine mission data. Sentinel-3 has been described as the most impressive satellite ever built for oceanography and for good reason. The massive increase in data on the health of our oceans that it is producing is now coming on stream, with a wide range of potential benefits in uses as diverse as weather forecasting and climate monitoring, improving sea transport safety, aiding the decision-making process for coastal planners, right through to aquaculture.
EUMETSAT stores about 4.6TB of data on average from instruments on board Sentinel-3A every day. That’s almost 10 times as much data as it stores from all of its other missions combined. A terabyte is about 1 trillion bytes. That’s about the same as downloading at least 128,000 songs on to an MP3 player per day.
EUMETSAT provides this information on a free and open basis, in an integrated marine data stream incorporating data from its own polar-orbiting Metop satellites and geostationary Meteosat spacecraft, the joint European-US Jason satellite altimetry mission and data secured under agreements with its international partners such as China and India.
Among the primary users of this data are the national meteorological services of EUMETSAT’s 30 Member States and the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS), which further processes the data and, in turn, makes products available to its users.
The Sentinel-3A satellite can accurately track changes in surface ocean waters. The Gulf Stream is clearly visible in this image. Credits: Copernicus Sentinel Data (2016)/CMEMS
” When you consider the average increase in sea level is 3mm per year, and that this is a key indicator of climate change and information crucial for adaption policies in coastal areas that are threatened by rising sea levels, the need for precise measurements is clear. ”
Ensuring the accuracy of the data is paramount, this is another area where international cooperation comes into play. When you consider the average increase in sea level is 3mm per year, and that this is a key indicator of climate change and information crucial for adaption policies in coastal areas that are threatened by rising sea levels, the need for precise measurements is clear.
Measurements are compared and cross-calibrated not just against those from other satellite-borne sensors but also against data from in-situ measurements, such as those from instruments on buoys.
The validation team for Sentinel-3 involves cooperation from partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, to give just two examples. EUMETSAT also collects and processes satellite altimetry data from India and China. This international cooperation allows us to be confident in the results we obtain.