US space agency NASA has announced that the ocean-monitoring satellite Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich has become the new reference satellite for all sea level measurements.
The latest in a long line of US/European sea level satellites, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich became the official reference satellite for global sea level measurements on March 22, 2022, meaning that all future sea surface height data collected by other satellites will be compared with information produced by Sentinel-6 to ensure accuracy.
Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in November 2020, the satellite is continuing a nearly 30-year legacy started by the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite, which began its mission to measure sea surface height in the early 1990s. A series of successor satellites have carried on the effort since then, with Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich being the most recent. Its twin, Sentinel-6B, is slated to launch in 2025.
Josh Willis, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said, “These missions, of which Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is the latest, are the gold standard when it comes to sea level measurements, which are critical for understanding and monitoring climate change.
“We can’t lose track of how much sea level has gone up, because if we do, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in the decades to come,” Willis added.
Julia Figa Saldana, ocean altimetry program manager at the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), added, “The unprecedented accuracy of the sea level measurements provided by this mission ensures not only the continuity of a 30-year data record, but allows improvement of our understanding of climate change and the impact of rising seas on coastal areas and communities.”
After Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich launched, it settled into orbit flying 30 seconds behind its predecessor, Jason-3. Science and engineering teams have spent the time since launch making sure Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was collecting the intended data and that the information was accurate. Some of the initial data was made available last year for use in tasks like weather forecasting. And after further validation, the scientists agreed that Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich should become the reference satellite for sea level measurements.
Sentinel-6 was jointly developed by ESA (European Space Agency), EUMETSAT, NASA and NOAA, with funding support from the European Commission and technical support on performance from CNES (France’s National Center for Space Studies).