NASA has successfully launched a new Earth observation satellite that will help scientists forecast the weather and monitor extreme weather events that are becoming more common. The satellite, called the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2), is part of a global observing system and the product of a partnership between NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“NOAA’s weather satellites have never been more critical as extreme weather events continue to be more frequent because of climate change,” said Irene Parker, NOAA’s deputy assistant administrator for National Environmental Satellite Systems, Data and Services, during a pre-launch briefing. “From 2017 through to September of 2022, the US has experienced 104 separate billion-dollar disasters. By comparison, from 1987 through 1991, there were only 15.”

JPSS-2 was launched on November 10 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA and NOAA have an entire network of satellites aimed at Earth to observe its environment, including JPSS-2’s predecessors, Suomi NPP and NOAA-20. JPSS-2 will join these two satellites in a polar orbit, meaning they will circle the globe from pole to pole, covering the entire planet twice a day.

“To predict local weather, we need to observe weather from this global perspective,” said Tim Walsh, director of NOAA’s JPSS program office. “A dust storm in Africa can affect the development of a potential hurricane that might impact the east coast. A typhoon in Japan might result in heavy rainfall here in California several days later.”

The JPSS-2 satellite will take measurements with its four instruments, including the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS, which acts as the “eyes” of the satellite. It takes visible light and infrared images with a spatial resolution of approximately a quarter of a mile, allowing researchers to see features like domes of clouds called overshooting tops, which can indicate how severe a thunderstorm is. The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, or ATMS, can observe through clouds to see the intensity of a storm, while the Cross-track Infrared Sounder, or CrIS, generates a 3D view of the atmosphere and the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite, or OMPS, studies ozone in the atmosphere.

Combined, the data from these instruments will help forecast the weather, in particular by monitoring the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. There are many weather stations on land that collect data. But measurements from the oceans must be carried out by meteorological buoys, which are relatively few, so these data must be supplemented with satellite data. Data from the JPSS program was previously used to predict the landfall of Hurricane Ian along the Florida coast and is now being used to monitor Tropical Storm Nicole.

In addition to weather forecasting, data from JPSS-2 will also be useful for studying other climate conditions. With the help of a satellite, you can observe droughts; measure ocean color, which can help monitor the health of ocean ecosystems and detect harmful algal blooms; measure air quality by detecting smog or smoke from forest fires; observe changes in polar ice caps and holes in the ozone layer.

Consistent measurements of these factors over decades are key to maintaining a record that allows us to understand the long-term impacts of climate change, in addition to JPSS-2’s role in predicting short-term weather events.