Discovery of ‘lost’ early satellite data to help understand Earth’s climate

Discovery of ‘lost’ early satellite data to help understand Earth’s climate

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Dr Paul Menzel, Dr Jörg Schulz and Dr David Santek were happy to discuss the discovery of data from the late 1970s – previously thought lost – when they met at EUMETSAT’s recent Meteorological Satellite Conference in Darmstadt.
Dr Paul Menzel, Dr Jörg Schulz and Dr David Santek were happy to discuss the discovery of data from the late 1970s – previously thought lost – when they met at EUMETSAT’s recent Meteorological Satellite Conference in Darmstadt.

US: The data, from the European Space Agency’s prototype Meteosat-1 geostationary meteorological satellite, was found at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) in the United States.

It has now been provided to EUMETSAT, which operates and disseminates data from Meteosat-1’s “descendents” and, crucially, has an uninterrupted record of climate data from these satellites stretching back more than 30 years. That record, although with a small gap, now extends even further back in time.

To say that the discovery of this lost data was greeted with enthusiasm would be an understatement, with climate scientists describing it as “like finding a lost child” – “the first born”!

Meteosat-1 was launched on 23 November 1977, and was positioned in a geostationary orbit at 0° degrees longitude, with a constant view of most of Europe, all of Africa, the Middle East and part of South America.

From that position, this view of the “full-disk” was scanned every 30 minutes, with the data being provided in near-real time to users. The satellite‘s mission lasted until 25 November 1979.

Meteosat-1 represented cutting-edge technology for its time, introducing the concept of a global system of geostationary platforms capable of observing the atmospheric circulation and weather around the equator in near-real time. It was also the first geostationary meteorological satellite to have a water vapour channel, tracking the motion of moisture in the air.

The data found in America comprises 20,790 images, from 1 December 1978 to 24 November 1979.

On 27 June 2016, EUMETSAT held an event to celebrate its 30th anniversary, in Darmstadt, Germany. Among the guests was Dr Paul Menzel, Senior Scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center.

A memento guests at the event received was a memory stick with links to EUMETSAT‘s climate data record, from 1 January 1984 up until the anniversary in 2016 – more than 32 years.

“It was pointed out that the data was all there, except for two days, which were missing,” Dr Menzel said.