NASA Launches Satellite to Predict Climate Change by Studying Earth’s Poles


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For the first time, a NASA satellite has been launched with the purpose of improving the ability to predict climate change by measuring the heat that escapes from Earth’s poles.

The satellite — the first of a pair — is in orbit following lift-off from Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket in Māhia, New Zealand, on Saturday, a press release from NASA said.

“This new information — and we’ve never had it before — will improve our ability to model what’s happening in the poles, what’s happening in climate,” said Karen St. Germain, Earth sciences research director at NASA, as AFP reported.

The two cube satellites in NASA’s Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE) mission — called CubeSats — are each the size of a shoebox, the press release said. They will measure how much heat our planet radiates from two of its coldest and most remote regions.

Technicians integrate NASA’s PREFIRE payload inside the Rocket Lab Electron rocket payload fairing on May 15, 2024. Rocket Lab / NASA Kennedy Space Center

St. Germain explained that, since small satellites answer precise scientific questions, they can be seen as “specialists,” while larger satellites are “generalists,” reported AFP.

“NASA needs both,” St. Germain said.

DATA from the mission will assist researchers in better predicting how Earth’s weather, seas and ice will change as the planet warms, the press release said.

“NASA’s innovative PREFIRE mission will fill a gap in our understanding of the Earth system – providing our scientists a detailed picture of how Earth’s polar regions influence how much energy our planet absorbs and releases,” St. Germain said in the press release. “This will improve prediction of sea ice loss, ice sheet melt, and sea level rise, creating a better understanding of how our planet’s system will change in the coming years — crucial information to farmers tracking changes in weather and water, fishing fleets working in changing seas, and coastal communities building resilience.”

Communications have been successfully established with the satellite by ground controllers. After the other CubeSat is launched, scientists and engineers will conduct a 30-day period of checks to ensure both PREFIRE satellites are working properly, after which they are expected to be in operation for 10 months.

“At the heart of the PREFIRE mission is Earth’s energy budget – the balance between incoming heat energy from the Sun and the outgoing heat given off by the planet. The difference between the two is what determines the planet’s temperature and climate. A lot of the heat radiated from the Arctic and Antarctica is emitted as far-infrared radiation, but there is currently no detailed measurement of this type of energy,” the press release said.

The atmosphere’s water vapor content — combined with the presence, composition and structure of clouds — influences how much far-infrared radiation escapes from the poles.

“This is critical because it actually helps to balance the excess heat that’s received in the tropical regions and really regulate the earth’s temperature,” said Tristan L’Ecuyer, principal investigator for PREFIRE and a researcher at University of Wisconsin, Madison, as AFP reported. “And the process of getting the heat from the tropical regions to the polar regions is actually what drives all of our weather around the planet.”

PREFIRE data will allow researchers to locate when and where far-infrared energy is radiating from the Antarctic and Arctic environments into space, the press release said.

“The PREFIRE CubeSats may be small, but they’re going to close a big gap in our knowledge about Earth’s energy budget,” said Laurie Leshin, director of Southern California’s NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in the press release.

Each of the satellites carries a thermal infrared spectrometer — an instrument which uses specially shaped sensors and mirrors to measure infrared wavelengths.

“Our planet is changing quickly, and in places like the Arctic, in ways that people have never experienced before,” L’Ecuyer said in the press release. “NASA’s PREFIRE will give us new measurements of the far-infrared wavelengths being emitted from Earth’s poles, which we can use to improve climate and weather models and help people around the world deal with the consequences of climate change.”

This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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