On Monday 17 September 2012, Europe’s newest meteorological and climate science satellite, MetOp-B, was launched into Earth orbit. This is a new addition to the fleet of orbiting weather satellites that transmit data back to Earth almost by the minute, which constantly improves weather forecasts, climate data, and early warnings on severe weather events.
This launch represents a flurry of achievements by the collaboration of the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and European space industry. This summer, one of Europe’s other new satellites, the Meteosat Second Generation 3 satellite (MSG-3), captured its first image of the Earth.
The MSG-3 satellite, launched in July this year, is the third in a series of four satellites introduced in 2002 and operated by EUMETSAT. It carries an instrument called the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager, which has a resolution of 0.6 miles (one kilometer) in its high-resolution visible channel, and 1.9 miles (three kilometers) in its 11 other visible and infrared channels. It transmits data of weather coverage of Africa and Europe to help short-range forecasts on fog and thunder storm formation. A full Earth scan like this requires just 300 megabytes of data and is transmitted back to Earth via radio signal.
“After reception, we process the data to make it easier to use for weather services. Any image element is available at a user’s workstation approximately within five minutes after it is scanned by the satellite,” said scientists at EUMETSAT.
The MSG-3 satellite takes regular images of the entire Earth every 15 minutes and of Europe every five minutes. “The actual value is not necessarily a single image, but rather the continuous sequence of observations,” said the EUMETSAT scientists. “Images are taken in 12 different spectral channels, that is, 12 different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, thus providing information on detailed cloud properties, for example, cloud height and phase, humidity information in the low, middle, and upper troposphere – which is a significant part of our weather, and on land and sea surfaces, most notably on surface temperatures.”
The computing infrastructure that processes all this data, known as the Meteosat Second Generation Ground Segment, comprises a total of 160 CPU cores and over 600 gigabytes of RAM.
This increase in the amount of data and the speed of analysis will create more accurate weather forecasts, especially for severe events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms, lightning strikes, hail, and strong gusts of wind. EUMETSAT scientists said, “The wider public is interested in good weather forecasts for many reasons like transport, agriculture, leisure activities, and all these activities are highly weather dependent. All this high-impact weather can also cause loss of property and – more importantly – lives. A timely and reliable warning service is absolutely necessary to mitigate the effects of such weather elements.”