Mission Monday: Jason-2 – Studying Ocean Height

Did you know that over 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and that the oceans hold about 96.5% of that water? Earth’s climate is heavily influenced by the oceans, so the more we know about these vast bodies of saltwater, the more accurately we can predict fluctuations in both climate and weather. This week’s mission, the Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2, collects data on a very specific aspect of the ocean – its height. By measuring sea surface height, scientists can develop a more accurate picture of how quickly sea level rise is changing, and which areas may be affected by these changes. This brief video explains more about the importance of measuring sea surface height:

Jason-2 is an international satellite mission which started in 1992 with the NASA/Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) Topex/Poseidon mission. In 2001, the NASA /CNES Jason-1 mission was launched, with the launch of Jason-2 in 2008. These missions combined provide almost 20 years of data on sea surface height, using high-precision ocean altimetry instruments to determine the surface height based on the distance between the satellite and the ocean surface. These instruments are so precise that they can accurately measure the distance to within centimeters. Over the course of these missions, scientists have learned that sea level has risen approximately three millimeters a year since 1993. With continued monitoring, scientists will be able to learn more about changing sea height, and observe patterns and fluctuations which may occur in different parts of the world’s oceans.

How does the data Jason-2 collects relate to mapping? This data is key not only to the development of models of the Earth’s climate, but also for helping private industry, such as shipping, offshore industry, fisheries, and forecasting weather.  Jason-2 is capable of collecting data on wave height, sea wind speed, and anomalies in sea level. These data can be used to create maps that help these industries in the development of a safer shipping route, or in identifying locations that may not be safe for offshore drilling or mining. Stay tuned to our social media accounts this week to learn more about this amazing mission!

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