Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Arctic Is Melting – and Scientists Just Lost a Key Tool to Observe It

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program has played a critical role in climate science for nearly three decades. (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin) Click to Enlarge.
Earlier this month, a U.S. satellite known as F17 — which was primarily used for meteorological measurements — experienced operational failures that compromised the integrity of its data.  And while there are similar satellites in orbit that can take over the data collection for now, they’re old enough that scientists are unsure how much longer they’ll last.

Now, with no government plans to launch a replacement any time soon, scientists who rely on these satellites for valuable climate data are beginning to worry about the future of their research.  The problem comes at a vital time, too — one when the Arctic, and other remote regions, are seeing rapid changes and scientists badly need these instruments to track them.

Just last month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that the maximum extent of Arctic sea ice this past winter — the time of year when the ice reaches its annual peak — was at a record low for the second straight year.  The Arctic sea ice record has been one of the most important ways scientists have tracked the progress of climate change over time.  But as of April 12, the NSIDC was forced to release a statement explaining that its daily sea ice updates were suspended until further notice due to technical difficulties with F17.
The last satellite built for the DMSP program — F20 — was originally intended to be launched within the next few years.  But last year, the Air Force’s funding request for the program was denied by Congress and the launch plans shelved.  Consequently, the already-built satellite has remained on the ground in storage, and Tina Greer, a public affairs officer with the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, confirmed that there is no DMSP satellite currently on the launch manifest.

Read more at The Arctic Is Melting – and Scientists Just Lost a Key Tool to Observe It

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