Critical data on sea level rise is now available courtesy of a unique European-American satellite ocean altimetry mission.

The Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite has just completed 12 months of intensive in-orbit testing



The Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite has just completed 12 months of intensive in-orbit testing

More precise information about global sea level than ever before is now available with the completion of 12 months of intensive, in-orbit testing of the Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite.

“The data released today is critical for monitoring the impact of climate change on Earth’s oceans,” said Julia Figa Saldana, EUMETSAT ocean altimetry programme manager.

“As the satellite ocean altimetry reference mission, it will continue the unbroken high-precision data record of sea level rise first started in 1992.


Ms Saldana said that by cross-calibrating Sentinel-6 against its predecessor Jason-3 to within 1mm, scientists can ensure that the 30-year long record of global mean sea level, as captured by satellite radar altimeters, continues uninterrupted.

Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is controlled from EUMETSAT’s Darmstadt headquarters, where its altimetry data is processed then disseminated to users of the data.

The satellite measures, every second, ocean height to within 3cm from an altitude of 1,336km above the Earth. This allows the global mean sea level to be determined with an accuracy of 1mm.

Lower accuracy, quick-release data from the Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission, released mid-year, are critical for weather forecasting purposes, for example, in models used to create seasonal forecasts or to forecast the development and track of hurricanes.

“Preparing for rising seas and coastal hazards in a new climate starts with Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich,” said Dr Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Program scientist and manager, NASA.

“Information from this satellite will help us to deliver on COP26 commitments and inform our actions with accurate climate information.”

The partners in this cooperative mission are the European Commission, EUMETSAT, the European Space Agency, NASA and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with support from the French Space Agency (CNES).

Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was launched from California, in the United States, on 21 November 2020. It is the first of a new generation of ocean-altimetry satellites and will be followed into orbit by its twin, Sentinel-6B, in 2025.