The new weather satellite that could spot wildfires before we do


By Ashley Strickland, CNN

(CNN) – Whether it’s wildfires sweeping across the West Coast, storms rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, or dense fog blanketing the Pacific Northwest, a new weather satellite will be able to all to follow them.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched GOES-T, the third in its series of advanced geostationary weather satellites, at 4:38 p.m. ET on March 1 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Once the satellite is in orbit, it will be renamed GOES-18 and will monitor weather conditions that affect the western United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America and the Pacific Ocean.

The satellite will provide our most sophisticated and sharpest view yet of what Earth’s Western Hemisphere looks like from 22,236 miles (35,785 kilometers) above the planet.

GOES-T is equipped with a suite of instruments capable of providing atmospheric measurements, real-time lightning mapping and returning stunning ultra-high definition images. Its continued collection of data will improve weather forecasts on Earth.

With the GOES-16 satellite, launched in 2016, the two will actively monitor more than half the globe, ranging from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand.

“Observations from these satellites are even more critical now, as the United States experiences a record number of billion-dollar disasters,” said Pam Sullivan, director of NOAA’s GOES-R program, during an interview. a press conference. “Compared to the previous generation, the GOES-R satellites provide 60 times more imagery, and they have a new flash camera to track severe storms that spawn tornadoes and damaging winds.”

The northeast portion of the Pacific Ocean is where most storms that hit the United States begin.

“Since many of the United States’ weather systems move from west to east, GOES-T will improve model predictions for the entire country,” said James Yoe, administrative director of the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation. , during a press conference. Tuesday.

And it’s not just about reporting the weather on Earth – GOES-18 will also keep tabs on solar storms and space weather, providing early warnings ahead of any potential disruption to our power grid on Earth.

Hazardous Condition Tracking

Flooding and mudslides in coastal areas can often be traced to a type of weather phenomena called atmospheric rivers. These “rivers in the sky” deliver columns of water vapor from the tropics and release rain or snow when they hit land, according to NOAA. Hurricanes that form in the Pacific can head for Hawaii or Mexico.

The GOES-T satellite will provide better monitoring of both types of weather events.

Warm ocean surface temperatures can contribute to hurricane formation, so satellite monitoring of these increases could provide an early warning of hurricane formation.

The satellite’s capabilities will also help meteorologists track and monitor tropical storms and hurricanes in near real time, sharing data on storm structure and characteristics, wind speed and lightning. All of these factors can be used to calculate the intensity of a storm.

Tracking rising ocean temperatures can also allow better monitoring of marine heatwaves that cause mass coral bleaching events and alter entire marine ecosystems.

Wildfires are another hazard to those living across much of the western United States, and GOES-18 is armed with a host of ways to spot and peer into the destructive nature of these extreme events.

The satellite will be able to find wildfire hotspots, detect changes in fire behavior and predict fire movement, as well as estimate intensity, smoke production and air quality . It will also have the accuracy to identify the lightning strikes most likely to cause these fires and detect the pyrocumulonimbus clouds that form over wildfires.

These massive clouds can stretch for miles. A dangerous combination of their size and heat allows the clouds to create their own weather and threaten the firefighters trapped beneath them.

“The Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, is ideal for detecting the heat signature, or hot spots, of fires,” NOAA GOES-R program scientist Dan Lindsey said at the press conference. “Sometimes it is even able to detect fires before they are reported by the public. This is really essential information to pass on to firefighters so they can deal with fires before they get out of control. “

The satellite’s ABI can scan our planet five times faster with four times the resolution of previous geostationary satellites. And the instrument recently surprised NOAA scientists with another previously unknown capability: detecting pressure waves from volcanic eruptions, which they were able to do after the Tonga’s recent eruption.

And GOES satellites don’t just monitor the Earth. They have specialized instruments that image the sun and spot solar flares and monitor incoming space radiation particles. Without proper tracking or early warnings, this space weather can damage the satellites that provide the backbone of our communications and GPS, as well as spacecraft like the International Space Station.

Once GOES-18 is operational, it will replace the current GOES-17 satellite, which will remain in orbit as a reserve. Post-launch testing of GOES-17 in 2018 revealed an issue with the satellite’s imager cooling system, resulting in dropped images from time to time. This issue has been corrected in the ABI for GOES-18, which will effectively replace Western Hemisphere GOES-17 surveillance.

The agency expects the first images and data from GOES-18 to be available in the summer of 2023.

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