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GOES-U Goes To Work

GOES-U Goes To Work

1st GOES image showing South America, 10-25-1975 (credit: GOES-1/NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) manages a fleet of Earth orbiting satellites known as GOES or Geo-stationary Operational Environmental Satellites. The series of environmental monitoring platforms are maintained at specific height locations at 22,000 miles and have makeing scientific measurements when 1975 when the first GOES-16 was launched and positioned over the western hemisphere. Since then additional GOES satellites have joined the crew.

According to NOAA, their final GOES instrument, GOES-U, was launched atop of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and went into space with a suite of advanced scientific instruments, visible and infrared light cameras, and other Hi-Tec gear. After a thorough 'test drive' of its systems in orbit, GOES-U will be stabilized at the same 22,000 mile height and re-named as GOES-19. It begin working at that location gathering data and imagery to be downloaded at NOAA labs for analysis. 

Since the first GOES was launched in 1975, the satellites have produced breathtaking images and videos of weather systems, extreme storms, atmospheric rivers, hurricanes, wind patterns, clouds, and volcanic eruptions. A few examples are worth viewing again: 

GOES-17 monitored an atmospheric river that developed in February 2019 which brought heavy rains and snows to California. With its infrared camera, GOES-17 observed the massive air mass move over the Pacific Ocean carrying a river of water vapor as it headed towards the West Coast. Such weather systems are long and narrow – about 250 to 375 miles wide – but can carry huge volumes of water across thousands of miles. They can cause series flooding and mudslides when they encounter land. They can replenish water supplies in drought-stricken regions as well. The GOES data can provide advance warnings to alert communities of pending extreme weather.

In 1980, GOES-3 observed the eruption of Mount Saint Helens which produced a blast that removed on the entire north side of the mountain and removed over 1300 feet off the volcano. The eruption was the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in US history and the GEOS data and other observations to assist travel warnings for aircraft and motor vehicles to avoid.

                                     Visible and Infrared video comparison of  Mount St. Helens eruption 5-18-1980 (credit: GOES-3/NOAA)

More recently, the cameras on the GOES-16 satellite captured wind patterns across the northern section of the Western Hemisphere at a near global scale. The motion-capture, created using a time series of images that were animated, provided important information on wind speeds and wind shear velocities at different atmospheric elevations by combining visible and infrared data. In the animation, red 'ticks' show high level winds between 23,000-46,000ft (7-14km) high; blue represents mid-level winds at 10,000-23,000ft (3-7km); while yellows are winds below 10,000ft (less than 3km). The IR sensors allow for measurements to be gathered at night for fog, smoke, and fire detection. Such information is critical for weather forecasters in the US and Canada.



The era of wind socks, backyard rain gauges, and wall thermometers is weather forecasting history. The granular data available now from the GOES satellites is changing how weather forecasting can be provided at both local and global levels. This is all for the better considering how global heating is amplifying all weather events with increasingly deadly impacts. WHB

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