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GOES-R, Building Better Predictors

Image of an artist rendition of the GOES-R Satellite
Courtesy of NASA

Soon, a new satellite will add greater depth to NCEI's weather and climate observations, taking us from Data 2.0 to Data 3.0. The GOES-R satellite carries into orbit the newest technology for collecting weather and climatic data. The sophisticated instruments on the satellite will increase NOAA's capacity to provide faster, more accurate information for a wide range of uses.

GOES-R's Spectrum of Detection

GOES-R, one of NOAA's four geostationary operational environmental satellites, represents a significant leap forward in NOAA's ability to detect and observe environmental phenomena. Among the upgrades to improve the safety of people, property, and prosperity, the satellite will provide:

  • Improved hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts
  • Increased thunderstorm and tornado warning lead time
  • Earlier warning of ground lightning strikes
  • Improved aviation flight route planning
  • Improved air quality warnings and alerts
  • Better fire detection and intensity estimation
  • Better detection of heavy rainfall and flash flooding risks
  • Improved solar flare warnings to protect communication/navigation systems
  • More accurate monitoring of radiation hazards to humans and spacecraft
  • Improved geomagnetic storm forecasting to protect power systems and spacecraft
  • Improved predictions by models
  • Better long-term data for climate studies

The satellite includes six different instruments, including a search-and-rescue system, data collection system, and emergency weather communications. The array of complex sensors and instruments are designed to take highly accurate measurements of Earth, our surface, and space environment.

Advanced Weather Forecasting

 

Picture of flooded road from National Weather Service.

Flooded road. Courtesy of National Weather Service.

Instruments on the new GOES-R satellite will collect three times more data and provide four times better resolution of images of events taking place above Earth's surface. Once fully operational in 2017, the satellite will scan the Western Hemisphere at frequencies not possible until now. Scans will occur as frequently as every 15 minutes of the hemisphere, every 5 minutes of the continental United States, and as often as every 30 seconds during severe weather, all at the same time. The GOES-R system will produce 1.75 terabytes of data per day from the single satellite—the equivalent of about 40,000 16-gigabyte smartphones of data per year.

What are the practical implications? It's the equivalent of replacing dial-up with high-speed broadband. Faster weather data allow for faster dissemination of information about rapid weather changes. Weather forecasters from the National Weather Service anticipate better response times for issuing warnings, watches, and alerts.

GOES-R and Space Weather

Instruments onboard GOES-R also monitor space weather conditions that can cause disturbances to electrical and radio technology systems on Earth. Space weather is caused by electromagnetic radiation and charged particles being released from powerful solar storms. Commercial airlines and transportation-related technology, such as GPS tools, are vulnerable to changes in space weather, as is NOAA's fleet of satellites.

 

Solar flare blazingly hot in the upper right of the sun. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

Solar flare blazingly hot in the upper right of the sun. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

A handful of the most sophisticated instruments in science, such as X-ray and energetic particle sensors, gather the space weather data and add them to a vast database, dating back to 1974. NCEI provides access to this solar and space environmental data and archives the data for future use.

GOES-R sensors and imaging instruments are also designed to feed space weather data to the Space Weather Prediction Center, which posts several measurements each day related to the sun.

Data at the Ready

Through the NCEI, information from GOES-R can be accessed and downloaded for public and private uses. Observations are stored and available from NCEI as raw and enhanced data and images covering the Earth's atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial conditions. NCEI works with many user groups: private industry and businesses, local and international governments, academia, as well as the general public.

Unlike other satellites, GOES-R will supply enhanced, user-friendly data for 34 meteorological, solar, and space weather measurements. The value-added information continues to develop through a working group process that combines government, academia, and private industry. The collaboration focuses on transforming instrument data into usable "products." For example, signal strength values from various wavelengths are processed into information about cloud characteristics, atmospheric properties, and surface characteristics, such as snow and wildfires. From space weather data, NCEI plans to generate products to show solar features in a thematic color-coded map categorized by type of solar phenomena—including flares, coronal holes, and quiet areas on the sun, among others.

 

Staff at the NOAA Satellite Operations Control Center monitor data from a GOES satellite. Credit: NOAA

Staff at the NOAA Satellite Operations Control Center monitor data from a GOES satellite. Credit: NOAA

GOES-R data will be available to the public after post-launch testing, sometime in late 2017. Climate satellite data can be accessed directly from NCEI online. Data can be selected by the type of dataset, by satellite or instrument, by image, or by contacting NCEI. Free software for visualizing and exporting weather and climate data, including radar, satellite, and modeling, is available through the Weather and Climate Toolkit (WCT). WCT provides non-proprietary software for background maps, animations, and filtering information. Images and movies can be exported in multiple formats.

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