NASA launched TIROS-1 on April 1, 1960. It was the first successful meteorological satellite worldwide. This was a follow-up to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1, launched on October 4, 1957, which was the first artificial satellite to be successfully placed in orbit around Earth.

What advantage do weather satellites have over ground-based weather stations? One keyword sums it up: height. Satellites can gather weather data from much higher positions than land-based devices. For decades, countries from around the world have been sending satellites into low Earth orbit with cameras and scientific equipment on board. This helps to study our home planet and its atmosphere.

Thus, satellite technology plays a key role in monitoring and mitigating climate change and fighting the climate crisis because satellites provide us with a holistic view of our planet and facilitate a better understanding of Earth.

Changes in the Earth’s climate no doubt affect our weather. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the Earth has gotten warmer and warmer. While this heat may seem like a relatively small increase, it ends up making a significant difference in weather events. As a result, natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts occur frequently. And unfortunately, they are causing more damage than ever before.

While we continue the fight against climate change, it is critical to better prepare people and communities around the country for possible natural disasters. Hence, better systems and technologies need to be in place.

This is where satellites once again come into play. Nowadays, satellites are used for weather monitoring, detection of pollutants such as methane, and monitoring of environmental events caused by climate change.

It is a game changer: managing climate change from space

Satellites are key in understanding that we have a climate crisis, provided that we can facilitate the necessary data sharing and access.

For instance, satellites measure the melting rate of icebergs into the Arctic Ocean and the impact on the ocean ecosystem from rising water temperatures and pollution. Satellites can also persistently measure amounts of methane and carbon dioxide produced by factories and power plants.

New optical and radar satellites are now helping to limit the damage of climate change. They can predict the occurrence of forest fires, measure soil saturation from flooding, and detect radio signals in remote regions to uncover illicit exploitation activities.

Climate change is generally a slowly evolving process. By accurately detecting these small changes, satellite observations help scientists enhance climate assessment models, monitoring the increased levels of pollution in the air. Satellites allow us to better predict the warming effect and the related impacts.

The tools that satellites use include microwave radiometers and imagers that create digital pictures of the Earth’s surface. Such pictures identify and indicate land, water, and ice separately. This would help to track, for example, the surface area of ice sheets, showing the regional status of changing ice coverage over time.

How do weather satellites work?

Satellite-based Earth-atmosphere observations benefit from geostationary (GEO) and low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) satellite systems. These two types of satellites provide data in different spatial and temporal resolutions.

GEO satellite systems circulate the Earth at a height of about 36,000 km above the equator. By taking on the geostationary orbit, satellites can continually monitor a particular region with a laser focus.

LEO satellites can directly monitor the climate within a short distance from their position. They can provide near-global coverage by scanning over different swatches of ground with each orbit.

What are polar-orbiting satellites, and what do they do?

The position of these satellites allows them to provide the information most useful for durable weather forecasting. They use devices to measure radiation emitted by the Earth and its atmosphere. This information, in turn, leads to more accurate weather forecasts.

Satellites can also watch sea ice coverage through radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface. Weather satellites carry sensors to scan the Earth, measuring reflected light and infrared temperatures. These measurements are then digitized and sent back to Earth for image making.

What can satellites tell us about climate change?

Satellites can tell us about ocean ecosystem changes and trends involving sea surface temperatures, coral reef health, whale travel patterns, sea ice melting, and more.

Weather satellites can detect the development and movement of storm systems and other cloud patterns. In addition, they can see other phenomena, such as city lights; fires; pollution levels; sand, dust, and snow storms; ice coverage; ocean currents; and energy flows.

For instance, the INSAT (India’s National Satellite System) series of satellites equipped with Very High-Resolution Radiometers (VHRR) provides data on cloud motions, top temperature, water vapor status, and more. All these data points help with weather forecasting for things like rainfall trends and the start of cyclones and their track prediction.

Satellites continue to provide imagery and data that greatly benefit weather forecasters. With these data and images, they can assess aviation risks such as low clouds, severe thunderstorms, and dust plumes.

Earth-watching satellites enable technology-based solutions that adapt to climate change. These include early-warning systems for extreme events, environmental monitoring, and better forecast and hindcast models.

Measuring the thickness of sea ice is another challenge with which satellites can help. This tracks warming ocean waters and their impact on ice sheets or icebergs. The key matrix shows that melting ice caused by warm temperatures is the largest contributor to rising sea levels.

By the early 1990s, Western space agencies began having satellites carry altimetry instruments. These new devices send radio pulses or laser beams back to earth. This enables scientists to measure the amount of time it takes the signal to return trip to the satellite, and analysts can calculate the difference in height between the ocean surface and the sea ice surface to determine the thickness of the ice sheet.

Satellites can effectively monitor and study a wide spectrum of disasters. Governments and private companies around the world are taking on new technology to provide relief and forecasts to disaster zones. As climate change increases and intensifies, satellites, in combination with big data analysis software, will become more pivotal in predicting natural disasters and subsequent relief efforts.

X2nSat has been a trusted firm in the satellite industry for over 25 years. We provide exceptional offerings for a variety of satellite-based telecommunications solutions. Along the direction of climate change management, we serve industry verticals including environmental monitoring, utilities, and healthcare with remote monitoring, disaster recovery (DR) and network backup services.

Want to get started using satellites to manage climate change? Please contact us for further details and discussion.