From ESA: “SMOS meets ocean monsters”

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European Space Agency

30 September 2015

ESA SMOS
SMOS

ESA’s SMOS and two other satellites are together providing insight into how surface winds evolve under tropical storm clouds in the Pacific Ocean. This new information could to help predict extreme weather at sea.

This year, a particularly strong El Niño is resulting in much higher surface ocean temperatures than normal. The surplus heat that is being drawn into the atmosphere is helping to breed tropical cyclones – Pacific Ocean monsters. With eight major hurricanes already, this year’s hurricane season is the fifth most active in the Eastern Tropical Pacific since 1971.

At the end of August, three category-4 hurricanes developed in parallel near Hawaii.

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Hurricane triplets

A collage from NASA’s Terra satellite captured the Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena hurricanes beautifully.

NASA Terra satellite
NASA/Terra

However, a special set of eyes is needed to see through the clouds that are so characteristic of these mighty storms so that the speed of the wind at the ocean surface can be measured.

This information is essential to forecast marine weather and waves, and to predict the path that the storm may take so that mariners receive adequate warning of danger.

The microwave detector on SMOS yields information on soil moisture and ocean salinity. Going beyond its original scientific objectives, ESA pioneered the application of SMOS measurements to study wind speeds over the ocean.

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Hurricanes change temperature of sea surface

Taking this even further, measurements from two other satellites, NASA’s SMAP and Japan’s GCOM-W, which carry differing low-frequency microwave instruments, are being used with readings from SMOS to glean new information about surface winds under hurricanes.

NASA SMAP
NASA/SMAP

JAXA GCOM-W
JAXA/GCOM-W

Combining data from multiple satellites in this way provides a unique view of how the surface wind speed evolves under tropical storms in unprecedented detail. This will greatly improve the information on the initial conditions of tropical cyclones fed into weather forecasting, and hence their prediction.

Scientists from Ifremer in France and the Met Office in the UK are assessing these new data and how they could be integrated into hurricane forecasting.

Measurements of sea-surface temperatures reveal cold-water wakes trailing the three recent hurricanes, highlighting the power these winds have in stirring the upper ocean and bringing cooler deep waters to the surface.

See the full article here .

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The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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