Story at a glance

  • The satellite is equipped with cutting-edge technology that will allow researchers to better track rising sea levels.
  • Researchers behind the mission say the new satellite will provide more precise and uniform data as it orbits the Earth every 10 days.
  • The satellite will be followed in 2025 by its twin, Sentinel-6B.

A new U.S.-European satellite designed to monitor the world’s oceans is set to launch into space from Vandenberg Air Force base in central California on Saturday. 

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, named after a former NASA earth science division director, is equipped with cutting edge technology that will allow researchers to better track rising sea levels — one of climate change’s many dangers. 


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The satellite will measure sea-surface height, wave-height and wind speed using radar altimetry. It measures how long it takes for radar signals to bounce off the ocean surface back to the satellite. 

As greenhouse gas emissions warm the Earth, the ocean absorbs the excess heat causing an increase in water volume and ice sheets and allows glaciers to melt. This causes a rise in sea level, the consequences of which range from increases in coastal flooding to the permanent displacement of coastal communities. 

Sea level measurements are taken at ground level in coastal areas, but researchers behind the mission say the new satellite will provide more precise and uniform data as it orbits the Earth every 10 days, The Associated Press (AP) reports. 

“If you measure it at sea level, you have one measurement device in Amsterdam and you have a different one in Bangkok and yet another one in Miami,” Josef Aschbacher, a senior official at the European Space Agency, told AP. 

“But with a satellite, you can compare these measurements globally because it’s the same instrument that flies over all these areas,” Aschbacher said. 

Instruments aboard the satellite will also provide atmospheric data that will improve weather forecasts, climate models and hurricane tracking. The satellite will be followed in 2025 by its twin, Sentinel-6B. 

Globally, the mean sea level has increased about 8 inches since 1880. In the past 100 years, it has climbed about a foot or more in some U.S. cities because of ocean currents and land subsidence.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recently warned about sea-level rise acceleration, claiming that by the end of the century, global sea level could rise 8.2 feet above 2000 levels by the year 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.


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Published on Nov 20, 2020