Technology

Small satellites can help warn of the next big hurricane


The Tropics satellite constellation will reduce this delay, providing a new, detailed view of each region from 16 to 24 kilometers at low latitudes every 30 to 40 minutes. “You always always get a new satellite flying over your storm and make a new new measurement, capturing all the dynamics and seeing what’s changing, the temperature and humidity fields, precipitation and rain bands,” says Bill Blackwell, the principal investigator on the project.

To achieve this, the nanosatellites must be launched into a very special orbital configuration. In early 2022, two units will be sent simultaneously on three separate missile flights facilitated by the start-up launch provider. Astra. Each pair of satellites will share an orbit at a slight angle to the equator — 30 degrees — across the globe from each other but follow the same path. When the three pairs are in orbit, they will intersect the equator at different points, like the movements of the three oscillating peaks. This unique configuration of satellite pairs that follow overlapping paths around the world will allow more frequent coverage of any one spot in the equatorial region. (The test unit will also continue to orbit as the seventh member of the team, but it will be used primarily for research and experiments, and possibly additional support on storms as needed.)

Courtesy of MIT Lincoln Lab

Each unit is equipped with a microwave radiometer, so researchers and forecasters will be able to see phenomena not visible to the naked eye, such as water vapor and temperature information. Once the data is back on Earth, it will be linked directly to the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center and fed into numerical weather prediction models.

For tropical cyclones, forecasters focus on minimum storm pressure and maximum winds, says Scott Brown, Tropics Project Scientist. These key variables help determine the intensity of the storm, and having more data in real time can make these models’ predictions more accurate. He says that continuous data on storm intensity “will be useful for understanding things like rapid intensification and weakening, and how this relates to the evolution of precipitation.”

A few researchers with NOAA have already tested how effective this additional data can be. at paper Published in the American Meteorological Society Monthly weather review (and already online), the team did an initial virtual test of the new system. “You basically take a computer simulation of a tropical cyclone, and then you sample from that simulation the data that you expect to get from your new observing system,” says Robert Rogers, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Division of Hurricanes Research in Miami. . Co-author on paper. “Ideally, you see an improvement in your expectations.”



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