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FAQ

Why are polar satellites important?

There is no substitute for the important role that polar satellites play in the United States alone, from hurricane forecasting to aiding in evacuations and wildfires, to helping troop deployment operations overseas. The satellites also maintain continuity of the 30+ years of space-based earth observations to monitor and predict climate variability. JPSS will have advanced technologies to improve our current capabilities, further advancing weather and climate science and services.

Why is the JPSS Program important?

Polar satellites provide the only weather/climate information for large swaths of the planet. Polar satellites also provide critical information for long-term forecasts. Without NOAA's JPSS satellites on-orbit, the lost data will lead to less accurate and timely numerical weather prediction models that are needed to support weather forecasting, thereby placing lives, property, and critical infrastructure in danger. Without polar observations, 2-3 days' advance warning of extreme events would be significantly diminished, as would the understanding of storm surge and flood potential— making it more difficult to conduct safe and strategic evacuations of coastal residents.

What impacts do NOAA satellites have on the economy?

NOAA's polar satellites are critical to the nation's infrastructure and economy. For example, polar satellites provide critical weather forecasting for the $700 billion maritime commerce sector and provide a value of hundreds of millions of dollars for the fishing industry. The satellites provide critical information for drought forecasts. Drought impacts alone are the greatest natural hazard—estimated to be $6-8 billion annually in the United States—and occur primarily in agriculture, transportation, recreation and tourism, forestry, and energy sectors.

Who uses polar satellite data?

  • Emergency Responders: When fighting wildfires, emergency responders rely on NOAA's polar satellites to understand weather conditions and identify "hot spots" in order to deploy first responders and resources. While geostationary satellites provide 4-8 km resolution, polar satellites see the situation at a more detailed 1 km resolution via twice daily passes. In addition, each of the three polar satellites (NOAA, DoD, EUMETSAT) covers the globe twice per day, so without JPSS, fire fighters would have access to only four daily passes versus six. While typical geostationary weather satellites likes GOES see the weather within their domain, polar satellites are able to see the weather as it takes shape before reaching the coasts. Extratropical storms originate outside the tropics and generally move west to east across oceans and continents.
  • Aviation Industry: The satellites also observe volcanic eruptions and track the movement of ash clouds — at a value of $100 to 200 million per year to the aviation industry. Monitoring ash clouds are critical to aviation safety as evidenced by the round-the-globe disruption to the industry during the Icelandic volcanic eruption in Spring 2010. While airports shut down for a few days, they were eventually able to re-route flights thanks to NOAA satellite information thus saving millions of dollars in delayed and canceled flights.
  • Maritime Transportation: Cargo and cruise ships at sea carrying billions of dollars worth of goods and millions of passengers would not be possible with today's accuracy. The estimated average expected annual losses to container shipping (lost containers and damage to vessels) in the absence of good information about extratropical storm conditions is on the order of $250 million/year in the North Pacific and $120 million/year in the North Atlantic. The estimated average expected annual losses to bulk shipping operations from these Nor'easters, blizzards and low-pressure rain storms in these regions are $150 million/year.
  • Agriculture: Farmers rely on polar satellites for drought, extreme temperature and length of growing season information to plan their plantings and determine which type of crop to grow. Drought impacts alone are the greatest natural hazard—estimated to be $6-8 billion annually in the United States—and occur primarily in agriculture, transportation, recreation and tourism, forestry, and energy sectors. The 1999 drought, for example, led to farm net income losses of approximately $1.35 billion.
  • Coastal Residents: Residents living along the coasts rely on the most accurate forecasts possible with as much warning as possible. Less accurate, false, and conflicting forecasts lead to inefficient evacuations and the unnecessary loss of life and property. Without polar observations, 2-3 days' advance warning of extreme events would be significantly diminished. That means severe repercussions for coastal locations and marine transportation, more expensive (at least $1 million per mile) and less strategic evacuations and issues with understanding storm surge potential and flood potential.

Do polar satellites play a role in climate monitoring?

Yes. The international climate record—used to help scientists predict potential high impact events and allow emergency managers to activate life-saving plans—would be severely impacted and lead to gaps in data. Any degradation of the current satellite coverage would also reduce NOAA's ability to monitor and predict climate trends in seasonal and longer time scales. Beyond climate research and prediction, global sea surface temperature measurements, volcanic eruption monitoring, forest fire detection, global vegetation analysis, ozone hole monitoring and other applications would be affected.

What does NOAA's polar satellite constellation look like?

There are only three polar satellites systems covering and representing the global constellation: NOAA's, the Department of Defense DMSP satellite, and Europe's EUMETSAT. All three pool their data to give scientists a full view of the globe- including the poles. There are approximately six passes over any one particular spot on the globe each day. This is particularly important for changing situations such as fast-moving hurricanes and wildfires.