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Satellites shed light on global warming

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Current research is investigating these relationships by exploiting the powerful union of multiple views of the ocean made possible by different instruments like those in the Envisat suite, such as the Radar altimeter, Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) and Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS). Envisat carries 10 instruments aboard and generates data on Earth’s land, oceans, ice and atmosphere.

By comparing and contrasting information on ocean colour, surface temperature and sea level, scientists are exploring the many subtle ways in which these near-invisible waves are capable of affecting phytoplankton, as they may be providing them with an input of nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean as well as moving them around. These findings are then compared with the effect of waves in models, helping to make the models more realistic, which means better predictions for the future.

Cipollini cited a recent modelling study by Canadian researchers that shows planetary wave speed is expected to increase considerably during this century as a side effect of climate change induced warming of the oceans, which may have a number of far-reaching effects on ocean dynamics.

"It is no surprise, then, that scientists are eager to better understand these phenomena - and satellites provide both the indispensable validation of the theoretical hypotheses and the stimulus for new ideas," Cipollini said.

Sea surface temperature (SST) is one of the most stable of several geographical variables which, when determined globally, helps diagnose the state of the Earth’s climate system. Professor David Llewellyn-Jones, Head of Earth Observation Science at the University of Leicester, UK, outlined the importance of SST data at the symposium.

Tracking SST over a long period is arguably the most reliable way researchers know of measuring the precise rate at which global temperatures are increasing and improves the accuracy of
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Source:European Space Agency


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