NASA has launched a satellite into orbit that it says will be able to measure the rise in sea level across 95 per cent of the Earth’s ice-free oceans, and help scientists predict extreme weather events linked to global warming.
The “Jason-3” satellite was launched aboard a rocket in California on Sunday and it will be fully operational after a six-month testing phase, the U.S. space agency said in a statement.
Joining its predecessor, “Jason-2,” launched in 2008, the satellite will track the height of the sea level, the speed and direction of ocean currents and tides, and collect information about solar energy stored in the ocean.
They will help climate specialists forecast the strength of extreme weather events, such as tropical cyclones, NASA said.
Jason Thistlethwaite, an assistant professor of business and environment at the University of Waterloo, told the Toronto Star that the rise in the sea level is “the greatest physical and economic threat from climate change.”
He said information gleaned from the satellites can help scientists as well as urban planners and governments protect coastal communities vulnerable to storms strengthened by an increase in the sea level.
That includes places in Atlantic Canada such as Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s, which may be affected by hurricanes that originate further south in the ocean.
“Reducing our uncertainty around the impacts of sea-level rise and extreme ocean weather will go a long way to reducing our vulnerability to the economic and social impacts of extreme events on our coastlines,” Thistlethwaite said.
Having that data, he added, “could increase the urgency that we give warnings in the communities that could be affected.”
NASA satellite images released last August showed that global sea levels have gone up by eight centimetres since 1992. In some parts of the world, sea levels went up by 25 centimetres.
A study published in October estimated that more than 400 U.S. cities and towns could one day be submerged as a result of the rise in the sea level.
“As human-caused global warming drives sea levels higher and higher, we are literally reshaping the surface of our planet,” Josh Willis, NASA project scientist for Jason-3, said in a statement.
“These missions tell us how much and how fast.”