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New Ocean-Mapping Satellite Primed for June Launch

New Ocean-Mapping Satellite Primed for June Launch
An artist's concept of OSTM/Jason-2 in space.
(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA and France are preparing to launch a new satellite next month tomap Earth's rising sea levels and study their link to global climate change.

The Jason 2 spacecraft is set to lift off atop a Delta 2 rocket on June15 from Vandenberg Air Force in California on a joint mission to study theEarth?s oceans and their currents.

?Globally, on average, sea levels are rising,? said Steven Neek of NASA?sScience Mission Directorate at NASA?s Washington, D.C., headquarters, in aTuesday briefing. ?This is a complex phenomenon which we need to understandbetter through flying new spacecraft.?

Since 1993, global sea levels have risen about 0.12 inches (3 millimeters)per year, or about twice the expected rate based on tide records from the pastcentury, NASA officials said. Natural and human-made causes are responsible forthe shift, Neek said.

Jason 2?s Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM) is a joint NASA-FrenchSpace Agency effort and the third in a series of satellites to track global sealevels forclimate studies. The spacecraft?s immediate predecessor, Jason 1, launchedin 2001 and is still operating today. Another U.S.-French satellite, TOPEX/Poseidon,launched in 1992 and scannedEarth?s oceans for 13 years.

"OSTM/Jason2 will help create the first multi-decadal global record for understanding thevital roles of the ocean in climate change," said Lee-Lueng Fu, themission?s project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,Calif., in a statement.

The new$433 million spacecraft is expected to orbit in tandem with Jason 1 some 830miles (1,336 km) above Earth and double the amount of monitoring coverage ofEarth?s oceans, mission managers said.

Thesatellite uses ocean altimetry and other tools to measure the height of the seasurface with an accuracy of within 1.3 inches (3.3 cm). The readings are alsoexpected to yield information on the speed and direction of ocean currents, andserve as an indicator of the amount of heat in the water that can affectclimate change, mission researchers said.

In additionto NASA and the French Space Agency, the Jason 2 mission also includesparticipants at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) andthe 20-nation weather satellite organization EUMETSAT. Researchers hope that by tyingJason 2 data into the international forecasting agencies, it will aid futurepredictions of ocean circulation fluctuations, weather patterns and climatechange.

"Peoplein coastal areas will benefit from improved near-real-time data on oceanconditions, while people everywhere will benefit from better seasonalpredictions resulting from the increased understanding of Earth systemprocesses enabled by these measurements," said Michael Freilich, directorof the Earth Science Division of NASA?s science directorate.

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