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Today’s Fight Against Climate Change is Happening in Space

Space & Airborne Systems
Jul 21, 2021 | 5 minute Read

Interest and concern for climate change is not a new phenomenon – observations and warning signs were recorded more than 2,000 years ago.

History informs the future

It was Aristotle’s successor, Theophrastus, who was credited with making the first climate change observations. Dubbed the “father of botany,” Theophrastus witnessed marsh draining and forest clearing to make way for the burgeoning city of Athens. He theorized that changes to Athens’ natural environment directly contributed to the area becoming warmer, sparking a climate change conversation that is still as relevant today as it was in ancient times.

Over the centuries, scientists recorded climate change with the tools of their time, each generation building upon the discoveries of its predecessors. Today, gaining deep insights into the intricacies of climate change on a global level and its relationship to increasingly severe, life-threating weather is a top priority for scientists. 

The new age of climate monitoring

Modern science is now looking at climate change from a different, more accurate lens – from space. For more than five decades, L3Harris has worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to design and build critical weather satellite technology to monitor severe weather and improve daily weather forecasts. Satellites now play one of the most critical roles in the fight against climate change.

“If you want to mitigate climate change, you’ve got to measure it,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in response to President Biden’s announcement of a $1 billion budget for extreme weather preparedness.

Scientists rely on satellites to monitor near-global climate change indicators like greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ice-melt and temperature – the most fundamental measurement of a changing environment. L3Harris’ Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) on board NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R Series has revolutionized meteorologists’ ability to collect weather, climate, ocean and environmental information. ABI is an especially powerful tool for monitoring severe weather which is a strong indicator of where we are headed with climate change and it’s destructive effects.

Instrumental to the fight

We often think of weather satellites in terms of its immediate benefit – providing advanced warnings of severe weather – but the data satellites are gathering is helping untangle climate change’s complicated web of causations.

L3Harris’ Thermal and Near Infrared Sensor for Carbon Observation-Fourier Transform Spectrometer-2 (TANSO-FTS-2) is exploring one of the root causes of climate change – greenhouse gases. TANSO-FTS-2 operates on Japanese Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite-2 (GOSAT-2) and measures carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. It is so accurate; scientists can use the data to discriminate between natural and man-made emissions.

As TANSO-FTS-2 observes rising greenhouse gas levels, ABI is capturing the effects greenhouse gases have on global warming – unpredictable climate disasters. ABI’s ability to scan the Western Hemisphere every 10 minutes, the continental U.S. every five minutes, and localized areas as often as every 30 seconds, has given NOAA unprecedented access to accurate, real-time data on developing weather. Not only does ABI support advanced warnings of climate-driven, deadly weather, it also gives scientists the continuity in data they need to benchmark against the past to inform the future.

“We need to continue investing in weather satellite technology, so we can detect fires faster, better predict storm trajectories and accurately monitor changing ecosystems,” said Rob Mitrevski, Vice President and General Manager, Space and Airborne Systems. “All of that will make us a more weather resilient nation.”

L3Harris’ focus on innovation and continuous improvements to satellite technology has given humankind a much more holistic view of our planet, one that Theophrastus probably never could have imagined when he gazed across the disappearing marshlands of Athens more than 2,000 years ago. Today, L3Harris is developing affordable solutions to quickly launch and operate reliable and accurate technologies to stay ahead of what’s coming next.

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