❝ One of climate change’s most important biographers — a 2,700-pound satellite orbiting 450 miles above the surface of the Earth — just recorded its last data point.
Earlier this month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that, after nine years and five months in orbit, the satellite known as F17 had stopped transmitting sea ice measurements. That’s not unusual — satellites in F17’s series, all named sequentially, are normally expected to last about five years, though some make it much longer. But F17’s failure could preempt the end of the series entirely…
❝ Since 1978, the satellites, each equipped with a set of passive microwave sensors, have been recording conditions on Earth, day in and day out. By measuring the amount of radiation given off by the atomic composition and structure of different substances, like ice or seawater, microwave sensing is a useful tool for pilots and military officers tracking weather conditions. Over time, these measurements can also track cumulative changes in sea ice. As early as 1999, scientists saw that sea ice cover was decreasing more quickly than it had in previous decades — and they’ve been observing similar trends ever since.
Until now, there have always been three or four satellites in the series orbiting at a time, as part of one of the country’s oldest satellite programs, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). Over time, as new satellites were launched and older models went dark, overlapping data have kept the 40-year sea-ice dataset consistent…
❝ “The real problem is that there’s nothing on the horizon,” said Walter Meier, NASA researcher. “There’s nothing funded, or planned right now.”
There is one other option — but it’s sitting in a storage room somewhere on Earth. This satellite, F20, was the last of its series to be built, and was tentatively planned to launch in 2018. That plan fell through last June, when the Senate Appropriations Committee revoked funding for the DMSP, even rescinding $50 million that had been specifically designated for launching F20. Without Congressional approval, F20 is grounded.
❝ “It’s sitting there, ready to be launched,” said Meier. He pointed out that the data from the satellite series is also used to study snow cover on land, ocean currents, temperature change, drought detection, and many other natural cycles. “The benefit is beyond my own work on sea ice.”
Even the few conservatives in Congress willing to admit to scientific evidence about climate change gets their knickers bunched over questions of responsibility and reaction. So, they respond to scientific questions the same way they have for recent decades to questions of social need, education, trade, peace – you name it. Their response is Do Nothing. They’re like petulant, ignorant children who shut their eyes and try to shout down the obvious. Hoping it will go away before they’re forced to open their eyes, again.
Help out the rest of the nation with confidence enough in science and human responsibility to fight for action. Start by kicking the deadwood out of elected office. Let them try to get honest jobs for a change.