‘Dog kennel’ satellite launched into space to measure rising sea levels

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is one of the most advanced Earth-observation satellites

A satellite shaped like a dog kennel launched into space on Saturday with the goal of measuring global sea levels.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the satellite, called Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, into space from an air force base in California.

The spacecraft is one of the most advanced Earth-observation satellites and is part of a joint US-European mission. Its findings will add to data satellites before it have been gathering since 1992, as part of the Copernicus Earth observation programme.

"The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our understanding of how," said Karen Germain, director of Nasa’s Earth Science division.

"The changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the impact on local communities varies widely. International collaboration is critical to understanding these changes and informing coastal communities around the world."

Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, which can create devastating effects such as flooding, lost habitats for fish, plants and birds and destruction of coastal habitats.

Nasa said that levels rose 3.3 millimetres a year between 1993 and 2020.

About two thirds of global sea level rise is caused by meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets – ones that cover Antarctica and Greenland.

In Greenland, rising air temperatures are causing the surface of ice sheets to melt. While in Antarctica, warmer ocean temperatures mix with warm air, causing glaciers to melt into the sea.

A series of satellites under the Copernicus Earth observation programme have helped to chart rising sea levels over the past three decades.

The mission began with the Topex/Poseidon satellite in 1992, followed by Jason-1 in 2001, OSTM/Jason-2 in 2008 and then Jason-3 in 2016.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will measure rising sea levels more precisely than any satellite ever before.

The 1.3-tonne satellite was named in honour of Michael Freilich, former director of Nasa’s Earth Science division, who passed away in August. He is known for his work in helping to advance observations of the oceans from space.

“Michael was a tireless force in Earth sciences,” said Josef Aschbacher, director of Earth observation programmes at the European Space Agency.

“Climate change and sea-level rise know no national borders, and he championed international collaboration to confront the challenge.

“It's fitting that a satellite in his name will continue the 'gold standard' of sea-level measurements for the next half decade.

"This European-US co-operation is exemplary and will pave the way for more co-operation opportunities in Earth observation."

In 2025, a twin version of the satellite, called Sentinel-6B, will be launched to help record another 10 years of Earth’s climate.

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