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The University of Southampton

New satellite to boost environmental research

Published: 28 February 2002

Large waves and storms will be monitored more effectively by scientists at Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC) using data from the new environmental satellite, ENVISAT, due to be launched tomorrow (Friday 1 March 2002).

The team at SOC's Laboratory for Satellite Oceanography (LSO) will have free access to data from the satellite to further their research into ocean circulation and ocean biology.

"Previous research here at SOC has discovered that the average wave height in the winter in the North Atlantic has increased by 1 m in 30 years, rendering some coastal defences inadequate," said Peter Challenor, a team leader within the LSO. "Whether this is related to global warming, or is part of a natural cycle known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, is not yet clear. Satellites like ENVISAT will help us to find the answer."

The European Space Agency satellite, as big as an articulated lorry, will be keeping tabs on the health of the planet from an orbiting height of almost 800km above the earth. Ten state-of-the-art instruments on board will build up a detailed picture of the earth's oceans, atmosphere, land and polar ice caps including ozone levels, temperature changes and the extent of the ice caps. Members of the research team at SOC are Principal Investigators for the ENVISAT mission, and will receive data transmitted from the satellite for projects approved by the European Space Agency. Data from instruments on the satellite will include sea surface height, sea roughness, wave height, sea surface temperature and ocean colour.

Precise satellite measurements of sea surface height, for example, can reveal a host of information about ocean currents, surface winds and wave height, according to Peter Challenor. "A radar altimeter onboard ENVISAT will allow us to determine whether wave height and storminess in the North Atlantic are continuing to increase," he said.

ENVISAT is due to be launched by the European Space Agency on Friday 1 March from Kourou in French Guiana. The satellite will send back a huge volume of data to earth-based scientists including those at SOC, and colleagues in France and the USA. In its anticipated 10-year lifespan, ENVISAT will gather a petabyte of data - 1 followed by 15 zeros, equivalent to the storage capacity of a million PCs.

Notes for editors

  1. Satellite images and animations showing increasing wave height trends are available from Peter Challenor at SOC.
  2. ENVISAT will be the heaviest satellite ever launched and is the most expensive satellite constructed by the European Space Agency, costing 2.3 billion Euros. It has taken 14 years to complete, from drawing board to launch pad, and is the follow-up to two earlier successful ESA satellites, ERS-1 and ERS-2.
  3. Southampton Oceanography Centre is a joint venture between the University of Southampton and the Natural Environment Research Council. It is one of the world's largest institutions devoted to research, teaching and technological developments in ocean and earth science.
  4. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £215 million.
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