Brussels, 08 Sep 2003
While the European Space Agency (ESA) is busy fine-tuning its weather forecasting instruments, mother nature has been making it easier than ever to capture clear, cloud-free images of the Earth and its atmosphere.
As Europeans recover from the hottest summer on record scientists at the ESA are taking advantage of the recent unusually clear skies to study, in more detail, Europe's weather patterns. A second-generation weather satellite, launched last August, has been poised above the Earth waiting for such a unique opportunity.
The sharper pictures being captured by the Meteosat Second Generation satellite (MSG-1) provide weather forecasters with essential information, not only for making short-term predictions, but also to investigate global weather trends in the longer term, throwing light on the extreme weather phenomena being experienced across Europe.
The enhanced composite image shown here was taken by MSG-1 satellite at midday on 10 August 2003 and, with the exception of the UK and Finland, shows a virtually cloud-free Europe. The satellite was developed in close co-operation between the ESA and Eumetsat, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.
Traditionaly, 'visual' systems used to monitor and understand changes in our atmosphere, land mass and oceans have relied on daylight and clear conditions, such as those last month, to 'see' the Earth's surface. But they are almost blind when it is cloudy or at night.
In the early 1990s – as part of the ESA's satellite programme called ERS-1 and 2 – European engineers developed the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to produce high-resolution shots of the oceans, coast, polar ice and land regions, irrespective of weather conditions, cloud coverage, or whether it is day or night.
Despite the ERS mission being formally over, according to the ESA, the spacecraft continues to provide weather scientists with valuable data from its wind-measuring instrument, the C-band scatterometer.
The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is interested in using this data for measuring winds and waves over the north Atlantic. "The ERS-2 scatterometer is particularly useful in the early detection of Atlantic hurricanes and extreme winter storms," says Philippe Bougeault, head of the research department at ECMWF.