by Meghan Rouillard
A recent NYT article called “Dying Satellites Could Lead to Shaky Weather Forecasts,” highlights the threat which the LPAC Science Research Team has warned of for over a year now. The current onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, a perfect storm of sorts of which we’ve yet to feel the full effect, has called attention to a probable gap in key weather forecasting data provided by our joint polar orbiting satellites, currently providing 84% of the data used in the main American computer model tracking Sandy. To quote the article:
“The United States is facing a year or more without crucial satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks, a result of years of mismanagement, lack of financing and delays in launching replacements, according to several recent official reviews.
The looming gap in satellite coverage, which some experts view as almost certain within the next few years, could result in shaky forecasts about storms like Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to hit the East Coast early next week.
The endangered satellites fly pole-to-pole orbits and cross the Equator in the afternoon, scanning the entire planet one strip at a time. Along with orbiters on other timetables, they are among the most effective tools used to pin down the paths of major storms about five days ahead.
All this week, forecasters have been relying on such satellites for almost all the data needed to narrow down what were at first widely divergent computer models of what Hurricane Sandy would do next: hit the coast, or veer away into the open ocean?
Right on schedule, the five-day models began to agree on the likeliest answer. By Friday afternoon, the storm’s center was predicted to approach Delaware on Monday and Tuesday, with powerful winds, torrential rains and dangerous tides ranging over hundreds of miles.
…Experiments show that without this kind of satellite data, forecasters would have underestimated by half the huge blizzard that hit Washington in 2010.
Experts have grown increasingly alarmed in the past two years because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launch of the next replacement, known as J.P.S.S.-1, has slipped to 2017, probably too late to avoid a coverage gap of at least a year.
Prodded by lawmakers and auditors, the satellite program’s managers are just beginning to think through alternatives when the gap occurs, but these are unlikely to avoid it.
…The program’s problems began a decade ago with an effort to merge military and civilian weather satellites into a single project. After its cost doubled and its schedule slipped five years, that project was sundered by the Obama administration.”
(Read more here)
While full blame for this upcoming gap in key data from the polar orbiting satellites may not lay solely with Obama, he surely has done nothing to help the situation with proposed budgets which did nothing to put JPSS on the fast track.
In fact, in 2010 , “the same year as the cancellation of Constellation, the White House cancelled the NOAA/DoD National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), because it was greatly over budget and behind schedule. The program was then split into a NASA/NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System, (JPSS) and the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) for the DoD.”
In late 2011 , “the Obama Administration informed its European partners that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would not be able to provide three sensing instruments for Europe’s next-generation polar-orbiting satellite, due to “budget challenges.”
The Obama Administration’s cuts to satellites also included those which could monitor important data related to earthquakes , and we all remember, consistent with these careless and deadly cuts, Obama’s various and sundry, “We just can’t know,” statements made in the aftermath of deadly Hurricane Irene.
Such key scientific instruments should never be made subject to fiscal austerity, as Obama has been willing to do, and as is the veritable platform of many Republican party ideologues. Such recklessness cannot be tolerated any longer. For more on this, you can also check out two blogs by Peter Martinson and Meghan Rouillard on hearings on this subject in Washington, D.C. from last year.
In contrast to slashing of these capabilities, an initiative in the name of their defense took place at the recent IGMASS symposium , attended by Benjamin Deniston and Jason Ross, where they also presented a view of the future where planetary defense rightfully and lawfully takes priority.