Washington, June 21 : NASA has launched a new ocean satellite that would chart sea level, a vital indicator of climate change, on a globe-circling voyage.
Launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the oceanography satellite is expected to return a vast amount of new data that will improve weather, climate and ocean forecasts.
Known as the Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason 2 satellite, it climbed into space atop a Delta II rocket on June 20.
Fifty-five minutes later, OSTM/Jason 2 separated from the rocket's second stage, and then, unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays.
Ground controllers successfully acquired the spacecraft's signals. Initial telemetry reports show it to be in excellent health.
"Sea-level measurements from space have come of age," said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. "Precision measurements from this mission will improve our knowledge of global and regional sea-level changes and enable more accurate weather, ocean and climate forecasts," he added.
Measurements of sea-surface height, or ocean surface topography, reveal the speed and direction of ocean currents and tell scientists how much of the sun's energy is stored by the ocean.
Combining ocean current and heat storage data is key to understanding global climate variations.
OSTM/Jason 2's five primary instruments are improved versions of those flying on Jason 1.
These technological advances will allow scientists to monitor conditions in ocean coastal regions - home to about half of Earth's population.
Compared with Jason 1 measurements, OSTM/Jason 2 will have substantially increased accuracy and provide data to within 15 miles of coastlines, nearly 50 percent closer to shore than in the past.
Such improvements will be welcome news for all those making their living on the sea, from sailors and fishermen to workers in offshore industries.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will use the improved data to better predict hurricane intensity, which is directly affected by the amount of heat stored in the upper ocean.
This mission will also improve our knowledge of tides in coastal and shallow seas and internal tides in the open ocean, while improving our understanding of ocean currents and eddies.