NASA has just launched a new and advanced satellite into orbit, which will allow it to more accurately measure the effects of climate change on our planet. PACE —the acronym for Plankton, Aerosol, Climate and Ocean Ecosystem— It was launched this Thursday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from the base in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“PACE will help us learn, like never before, how particles in our atmosphere and oceans can identify key factors that impact global warming,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. The space agency confirmed the activation of the satellite’s signal five minutes after its launch.
The satellite will spend at least three years studying the oceans and atmosphere at an altitude of 676 kilometers. Every day, it will scan the planet with two polarimeter instruments, tools designed to study how sunlight interacts with particles in the air. This will provide NASA researchers with new information about atmospheric aerosols, cloud properties and air quality at local, regional and global scales.
The satellite has a third instrument to analyze the oceans and other bodies of water through a spectrum of ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared light. In this way, NASA will be able to track the distribution of phytoplankton and, for the first time from space, identify which communities of these organisms are present on a global scale. This would help, for example, study harmful algal blooms and other changes in the sea caused by climate change.
NASA’s contribution to the climate change emergency
Studying phytoplankton is important because it plays a key role in the global carbon cycle. These organisms absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into their cellular material. In addition, they are essential for the development of some aquatic ecosystems.
NASA already has more than two dozen Earth observation satellites and instruments in orbit. «PACE will give us another dimension» compared to what other satellites observe, said NASA Earth Science Director Karen St. Germain.
Climate change already has a powerful impact on the oceans. It’s not just the rise in sea level, which in 2023 reached its historical maximum. Scientists warned last August that the average ocean surface temperature had reached the highest level in its history.
The PACE mission began planning 20 years ago, NASA said in a statement. “The opportunities that PACE will offer are very exciting and we will be able to use these incredible technologies in ways we have not yet anticipated,” said Jeremy Werdell, PACE project scientist. “It is truly a mission of discovery.”
The new satellite is one of several NASA efforts to address the climate emergency. Last December, the agency created a center especially dedicated to promoting the dissemination of data that contributes to curbing climate change.
2023 closed as the hottest year in history and this year could be worse. Britain’s Met Office warned that Global average temperature could momentarily exceed 1.5°C in 2024. Two factors support this forecast: emissions of polluting gases continue to rise and the El Niño phenomenon, which began last year, has not yet reached its peak.