By Jeff Tollefson
The United States filled a crucial gap in its weather-forecasting arsenal when it launched its latest geostationary satellite on 1 March. The craft will enable meteorologists to track hurricanes, snow storms and other threats as they develop. It will also beam down data that researchers can use to measure air temperature and humidity — if they can work out how to incorporate them into their models.
Scientists currently can’t use much of the information collected by geostationary satellites, which sit above a particular location on Earth, and polar-orbiting satellites, which swing around the planet’s poles. It’s a long-standing problem caused by the kind of data collected and the large uncertainties that arise when forecasters try to integrate the measurements into their weather models. Now researchers are starting to overcome these technical challenges, with encouraging results for both short- and longer-term forecasts.
The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-17 (GOES-17) will assume a position above the equatorial Pacific Ocean. When its data are combined with those from the identical GOES-16, which is already parked over the Atlantic Ocean, they will monitor the Earth from Africa to New Zealand. Weather forecasters around the world use such geostationary satellites to monitor storms, and their models incorporate limited data on atmospheric moisture and wind speed and direction.
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