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NESDIS Reflects on FY 2019

January 28, 2020

This past year was a busy one for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). As we begin a new voyage around the sun, we wanted to take some time to look back at our accomplishments as we work to continue to improve the nation’s access to secure and timely global environmental data.

NOAA Supported the Launch of Metop-C

On Nov. 7, 2018, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) launched Metop-C, a new state-of-the-art polar orbiting satellite that will help improve complex weather forecasts, prediction models, and long-term climate assessments. This satellite was designed to work together with its predecessors (Metop-A and -B), as well as Suomi-NPP, NOAA-20, and other NOAA legacy satellites, to collect more precise weather data as we continue improving forecast errors from combined satellite observations incorporated into models. The satellite’s instruments will also provide new and improved observations on atmospheric particles, CO and SO2, soil moisture, and more.

NOAA supplied four of the 13 instruments onboard the satellite, including two microwave emitters that measure global atmospheric temperature, humidity, and sea ice. There is also a visible/infrared radiometer that delivers imagery of clouds, oceans, ice, and land surfaces. The last was the Space Environment Monitor (SEM), which monitors space plasma and radiation around the spacecraft.

GOES-17 Became Operational

GOES-17, formerly GOES-S, became fully operational as NOAA’s GOES West satellite on Feb. 12, 2019. The second of NOAA’s advanced geostationary weather satellites, GOES West provides high-resolution real-time visible and infrared imagery of the west coast of the contiguous U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and much of the Pacific Ocean, and operates in conjunction with its sister satellite, GOES East (GOES-16), which has the same instruments and capabilities. Before GOES West, high-quality data coverage of the Pacific Ocean was sparse, but now the satellite provides forecasters with access to more detailed views of high-impact weather systems along with environmental hazards such as wildfire smoke, volcanic ash, and more. GOES West has been especially valuable to Alaska, where NOAA’s older geostationary satellites provided far less coverage.

Although the satellite experienced a cooling problem that reduced the performance of its advanced baseline imager (ABI), it is now back to delivering more than 97% of its intended data thanks to extraordinary recovery efforts by staff.

COSMIC-2 Launched

On June 25, 2019, NOAA supported the successful launch of the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC-2)—known in Taiwan as Formosat-7—in joint collaboration with Taiwan, NASA, USAF, the National Science Foundation, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

The mission consists of six satellites designed to improve weather forecasts and space weather monitoring via state-of-the-art instruments that provide improved precision, performance, and five times the number of measurement capabilities with near real-time numerical weather prediction. Additional instruments include GPS, GALILEO, and GLONASS tracking capability. By measuring minute bending in the GPS signal, the information collected by COSMIC-2 satellites will provide meteorologists with details about Earth’s atmosphere—such as temperature, pressure, density, and water vapor—that will help meteorologists better observe, study, and forecast severe storms.

Additionally, COSMIC-2 will monitor solar activity that can disrupt the power delivered to your home, and ultimately provide global temperature documentation to help scientists understand long-term climate changes on Earth.

NOAA Satellites Tracked Record-Setting Storms

NOAA satellites tracked storms throughout the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season. The most powerful was Hurricane Dorian, which was also the strongest hurricane to strike the Bahamas since records began in 1851. It was also the first Category 5 storm to make landfall on Grand Bahama Island, and at 185 mph, was the strongest hurricane to hit Abaco Island. Dorian killed more than 70 people, mostly in the Bahamas, and caused more than $4.6 billion dollars in damage.

Another Category 5 storm, Hurricane Lorenzo, emerged later, and was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the central North Atlantic Ocean with winds at 161 mph. Portugal’s western Azores were the first to be affected, and as the storm died down, becoming an extra-tropical cyclone, it brought heavy rain to Northern Ireland.

In total, the season produced 18 named storms and 20 total depressions including six hurricanes of which three were considered “major” (Category 3, 4, or 5).

This was also a record-setting year for tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean, as it was the costliest and the most active season ever recorded since reliable records began in 1967. It was also the deadliest cyclone season recorded in the southwest Indian Ocean, surpassing the 1891–92 season.

NOAA Satellites Recorded Solar Phenomena

This year, NOAA satellites were able to capture some stunning images of otherworldly bodies in the solar system. For example, the GOES-16 satellite was able to see several eclipses using its Solar Ultraviolet Imager. Not only did we get to see the Moon pass in front of the Sun, but we were even able to see the shadow of the Moon on the Earth during an annular solar eclipse the day after Christmas.

This imager was also used to record imagery of a large solar flare on March 8, 2019 as well as the transit of Mercury across the sun on Nov. 11, 2019.

NOAA Satellites Monitored Wildfires

It was a devastating year for wildfires around the world. With record high temperatures and windy conditions, the weather was ideal for hundreds of large, long-lived fires to spread within the Arctic Circle, mainly in Alaska, Canada, and Siberia, while more than 40,000 fires blazed in the Amazon. In Australia, the worst bushfires in decades, which were exacerbated by the hottest temperatures on record for the area and widespread drought, ravaged the continent. In the U.S., more than 7,860 fires have been recorded this year alone.

Aside from the impact on global climate, the fires created environmental concerns regarding the excess carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from their emissions, the impact on the biodiversity of the forests, and ongoing threat to indigenous tribes and wildlife.

In the midst of these fires, emergency responders were able to utilize a combination of NOAA’s powerful satellite sensors and weather models to provide accurate forecasts of smoke movement. Correctly observing and predicting changes in wildfire locations and intensity over a widespread area is important to understanding how much smoke is generated from a wildfire.

Additionally, NOAA’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR)-Smoke model is a relatively new advancement to help in predicting the direction and height of wildfire smoke plumes. The HRRR-Smoke model simulates the emissions and transport of smoke from wildfires to help NOAA NWS forecast offices provide core partners and the public information about the severity and movement of wildfire smoke.

New World Magnetic Model Released Early

The Earth’s magnetic field has moved and even reversed many times over the course of our planet’s long history. However, scientists recently learned that the magnetic pole has again begun to move from Canada toward Siberia at a relatively quick pace, which can affect modern navigation systems.

The World Magnetic Model (WMM), which characterizes the Earth’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation systems, including more than a billion smartphones for navigation apps, is a vital part of military and commercial daily operations around the world and was not scheduled to be updated until December 2019. However, scientists determined that due to the rapid changes in the world’s magnetic field, the existing WMM had become inaccurate. Thus, an out-of-cycle update was issued to anticipate these new changes in early Feb. 2019.

To ensure sustainability and continuous accuracy of the WMM, the U.S. government is taking a proactive approach in identifying new methods of data collection. The WMM is a joint product of the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the United Kingdom’s Defence Geographic Centre (DGC). The model, associated software, and documentation are distributed by NOAA on behalf of these organizations at five-year intervals to account for any unforeseen evolution of the magnetic field structure.

We Supported the Extended Continental Shelf Project

Every country with a coast exercises legal rights with regard to the exploration and use of natural resources within its continental shelf, an area of the seabed that reaches out 200 nautical miles from its shores, and beyond that distance if the shelf naturally extends past that limit. This extra distance is called the extended continental shelf (ECS), and knowing the exact extent of the ECS as well as a thorough understanding of its resources is necessary for national security and optimized management.

Since the extent of the U.S. ECS has not been determined, in 2019, NOAA was a chief participant in an effort to define this important international boundary by collecting and analyzing data on the depth, shape, and geophysical characteristics of the seabed and sub-sea floor. The final report is scheduled for release in 2020. Although there are no official maps yet showing the extent of the U.S. ECS, a prospective map identifies about one million square kilometers or approximately twice the size of California. Roughly half of that area is off Alaska. These boundaries will have significant implications for resource rights.

Annual State of the Climate Report Released

In Aug. 2019, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) released the high-profile State of the Climate in 2018 report under the umbrella of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Renowned as one of the premier annual reports about the climate, the 29th edition was based on contributions from more than 470 scientists from nearly 60 countries around the world and involved tens of thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice, and in space. The State of the Climate in 2018 is in a peer-reviewed series published annually online and in print as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the AMS.

The report states that nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005, with the last five years (2014–2018) ranking as the five warmest years on record. Record warm temperatures were measured across much of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, New Zealand and surrounding ocean, and across parts of Asia, the Atlantic Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. In terms of precipitation, the results were more ambiguous—many stations were wet for the year, while many stations were dry, with extreme precipitation and drought events occurring periodically across the world.

New Arctic Broadband Point of Presence Launched

Utqiagvik, Alaska, also known as Barrow, is the farthest northern point in the United States. It is also a critical location for international Arctic research and a strategic location for U.S.-based satellite operations and high latitude data acquisition capabilities. However, due to its remote location, internet access in the area has been shoddy at best, until now.

Leaders from NOAA, ASRC Federal, and Quintillion joined together for a ribbon cutting ceremony launching the Arctic Broadband Point of Presence (PoP) at the NOAA Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory on Sept. 7, 2019. With the installation of the PoP, NOAA scientists are now able to utilize high-speed internet and wider bandwidth to help support scientific missions in the area by increasing communication speed and satellite data transfer to the Fairbanks Command and Data Acquisition Station (FCDAS).

Additionally, the new broadband capability opens the door for additional businesses in the region and aims to improve the lives of local residents by bringing modern-day technology and jobs to the connected communities. Prior to this, data flows from the North Slope to the rest of the world via domestic satellite links were notoriously slow and unreliable, especially during inclement weather or poor satellite positioning.