This week, Rex Tillerson told U.S. Senators that he believes that "increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect," but that "our ability to predict that effect is very limited."
Hopefully, Tillerson celebrates the advances in science that can help us to improve predictions, including game-changing satellite technology like the next generation GOES program. In honor of the American Meteorological Society's 2017 annual meeting, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the first images of their new GOES-16 satellite, the showing off the quantum leap in technological capability of the new geostationary satellites.
The photos are stunning.
On the one hand, surely anyone looking at the fragile ball hanging in endless black space must feel a compulsion to use any measures to protect the well-being of our only home planet. On the other hand, the delicate lace of clouds visible from space can deliver destructive forces devastating to human habitation and lives.
Although GOES-16 and its planned satellite companions are not designed for 'climate science' but for meteorology (the difference being the prediction of effects of the planetary climate system versus the local weather conditions), the better understanding of cause and effects behind weather events can be knit together into hypotheses about climate.
The new technology will provide 4 times the resolution at 5 times the speed, and can help us understand better how winds at different levels in the atmosphere develop, predict solar flares, and to differentiate clouds, water vapor, smoke, ice and volcanic ash.
The satellite carries the first operational "lightening mapper," which can detect electrical activity before radar can pick up the signs of where a storm is likely to become more intense.
Together with satellites like the European Space Agency's Earth Explorer and satellites operated by Asian agencies, these programs offer scientists unprecedented data which currently is shared very openly in the global scientific community.
So far, the images remain eye-candy. Dr. Stephen Volz, director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, says one NOAA scientist likens the photos to the emotional impact of "seeing a newborn baby’s first pictures." We can hardly wait to see how this baby turns out as it grows up!
In the worst case, the GOES satellite program will help people get ahead of the potential damage that increasingly frequent and powerful weather events will deliver. In the best case, the beautiful images of our fragile earth represent data that will help scientists better understand the many factors that make predicting the overall effects of climate change so difficult...which may become a critical hurdle to taking action.