Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A New Weather Eye in the Sky

GOES-16, atop a Atlas V booster, leaves the launch pad.
Credit: NOAA
Last fall members of the meteorological community anxiously awaited the launch of a new weather satellite, one that could revolutionize weather satellite science. Dubbed the GOES-R at that time the satellite was equipped with state-of-the-art imaging equipment and array of sensors. GOES-R was originally scheduled to launch on November 4, 2016. We collectively held our breath in early October when Hurricane Matthew clobbered eastern Florida as it moved north just off the coast. Hurricane Matthew had a close encounter with the Kennedy Space Center. The satellite was safely secured and escaped harm, but damage to Cape Canaveral and at the Kennedy Space Center forced the launch date to November 16. On November 3 the launch date was pushed to November 19 because of a minor issue with the Atlas V booster. Finally at 6:42 p.m. EST on November 19 the GOES-R was launched into space.

Credit: NOAA
On November 29 GOES-R reached geostationary orbit at an altitude of 22,000 miles and officially designated GOES-16. Testing and calibration of the satellite systems began at that point and is continuing. Though not yet officially operational (data is preliminary and undergoing validation), GOES-16 images and products seen so far are nothing short of spectacular.

Not only is GOES-16 monitoring our terrestrial weather, it is also monitoring space weather. There are sensors on board for observing solar flares (Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors, the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), monitoring the flux of charged particles associated with the Aurora Borealis (Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and a new, faster magnetometer for monitoring the earth's magnetic field.

The cool stuff related to terrestrial weather includes the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), the first lightning detector in geostationary orbit. It monitors for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, both in-cloud lightning strikes and cloud-to-ground strikes.

The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) is the primary imaging instrument on GOES-16. It will provide three times more spectral information, four times the spatial resolution, and more than five times faster temporal coverage than the current system. The increase of both speed and resolution will be a huge advantage to forecasters. Mesoscale (1000 x 1000 km) spatial resolution will be 2 kilometers, with updates as often as every 30 seconds. This will have a tremendous positive impact on the ability of forecasters to monitor and respond to developing weather situations.

You may have already seen images from GOES-16 on the web. The difference on visible images is astounding, like the difference between your old TV and the latest HD TV image. Here is one of those images.

Visible image from GOES-16 on the morning of March 7, 2017. This is one image captured from a loop.
Credit: CIRA/RAMMB at Colorado State University

This image is one from a loop of images assembled by the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA)/Regional and Mesoscale Modeling Branch at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. The amount of detail is amazing. These high resolution images from GOES-16 have even captured the smoke from small wildfires. For a full-size high resolution of this image and the image loop, click here.

NOAA emphasizes that "the GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing." The switch to operational status should occur this summer or in the fall.

If you would like to view the different types of GOES-16 satellite images there is a nice sampling of GOES-16 images and videos at this link.

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