This morning, all being well, the latest satellite in the Copernicus fleet will head into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Among those monitoring the event from ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands will be NCEO‘s Director John Remedios and some of the growing band of #sentinerds – including, of course, a member of the EO Detective team.
Jasdeep Anand is not so lucky, but he will be watching the ESA live stream of the launch from his desk because, as he says:
This is an exciting time for the atmospheric science community, as Sentinel 5-P will give us an unparalleled insight to the atmosphere and our impact on the air we breathe. Sentinel 5-P will give us high-resolution maps of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, that will be essential for policymakers looking to improve our cities. This instrument also promises to give essential information about our methane emissions, which will be vital for monitoring and forecasting future climate change.
Over 30 years ago, Joe Farman from the British Antarctic Survey discovered the infamous hole in the ozone layer, and scientists like Jasdeep have been working with colleagues across the world to study the atmosphere from space ever since. Missing ozone high in the atmosphere lets too much ultraviolet light reach us, but too much of the same gas nearer the ground is also a problem – it’s not good for the health of animals or plants. And ozone is one of the pollutants that instruments on Sentinel 5P are designed to monitor. Being in space, it views a large patch of the earth at once, and the new detectors can see much more detail than older ones. Scientists and developers will be able to use the data to develop better systems and apps for air-quality monitoring and forecasting.
Another gas that Sentinel 5P can monitor is methane. EO Detectives like Rob Parker, who produced this map using information from a Japanese satellite called GOSAT, are also looking forward to getting more detailed measurements. Why? Because methane is produced not just by the industries and vehicles that we usually blame for air pollution, but also by farms. It is a greenhouse gas 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide – and it stays around for a very long time. Being able to identify exactly where it is coming from will really help us to work out how to reduce the amount we send into the atmosphere and give us a better idea how we can fight climate change.
So, we shall be watching with fingers crossed until it first calls us from 824 km up, and then waiting – dare I say with bated breath? – for the data to start arriving.