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Sentinel-6 sea level tracking satellite gives boost to climate science

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Jeff Tyson

A new satellite developed by engineers at the European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will soon be orbiting the Earth, measuring sea level rise. The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite will lift off Nov. 10 in a Space X Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the European Space Agency will unveil more details about the mission on Friday.


Flavio Lehner

Climate scientist and assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science

Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist and assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science at Cornell University, studies climate change projections. Lehner says the launch of the Sentinel-6 satellite is significant to climate research in that it will allow for “continued observation of sea level rise” which is only possible on a global scale in the satellite era, and also allows scientists to better assess trends globally and regionally.

Lehner says:

"The most important part of this story for me is that continued observation of sea level rise is ensured. Long measurement series are critical for climate research and truly global sea level measurements have only been possible in the satellite era, so are still relatively short. 

"The newer instrumentation will allow for more accurate sea level assessments and help to refine our understanding of regional sea level rise. Like many other climate phenomena, sea level rise has a component of natural variability and a component of human-made contributions. Globally, the human component dominates, which is why we’ve seen global sea level rise continuously since measurements began. Certain regional trends, however, constitute an interesting mix of natural variability and human contribution. Better data (temporally, spatially, accuracy) will further help to disentangle the two.

"More affordable satellite missions would certainly benefit climate research given the ongoing struggle to fund these expensive but invaluable measurement series."

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