October 28, 2014 marked the three-year ago anniversary of the launch of the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Suomi NPP has orbited earth 15,550 times since its launch three years ago, resulting in improved quality of weather and environmental observations from its five sophisticated instruments.
JPSS polar satellites are critical for weather forecasts beyond 48 hours and increase the consistency and accuracy of forecasts three to seven days in advance of a severe weather event. These early warnings enable emergency managers to make timely decisions to protect American lives and property, including ordering effective evacuations.
Supporting Weather Forecasting
There are 122 NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) in the U.S., and JPSS, as a result of JPSS polar satellite data incorporation into NWS numerical weather prediction models, provides model data to all these locations.
JPSS is also the primary weather observation satellite system for Alaska and the Polar Regions, serving as the primary tool for predicting weather in locations that are not visible to geostationary satellites. In Alaska, JPSS will provide nearly all of the weather forecasting for aviation, as well as for the economically vital maritime, oil and gas industries. Data from Suomi NPP also contribute to the U.S National Ice Center, which provides snow and ice products to support the military as well as the transportation and energy sectors. The NWS WFOs in Alaska uses the data from the next generation Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on-board Suomi NPP to produce graphic analyses of sea surface temperatures and sea ice, as well as five day sea ice forecasts year round.
In data sparse areas, such as the Pacific region, Suomi NPP data provides information to accurately track and predict severe weather events. The region’s distinctive geography has a high vulnerability to hazards and climate variables such as typhoons, tornados, tsunamis, heavy rains, droughts and tropical cyclones that threatens island wildlife and ecosystems. Most current satellites provide important information during day and night, although observations in the visible part of the spectrum are limited at night. The VIIRS day/night band is sensitive enough to provide storm information even under limited moonlight conditions, a major advancement for storm analysis. In July 2013, the VIIRS instrument was able to detect a change in the path to Tropical Storm Flossie as it approached Hawaii at night. Without VIIRS, NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center would have not been able to see the center of the storm, jeopardizing effective storm warnings.
Generating Environmental Data Products
Circling the planet in a north-south motion between the poles 14 times a day and 512 miles above the surface, Suomi NPP observes any given point on the Earth's surface twice a day—once in daylight and once at night. Once an orbit is complete, Suomi NPP sends its data to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway. Data is derived from the next generation instruments that fly on the JPSS series satellites: VIIRS, Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) and Cloud and Earth Radiant Energy System (CERES). These represent substantial advances over NOAA’s legacy Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites building on capabilities pioneered by the NASA’s Earth Observing System Satellites.
Suomi NPP data is then routed to the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland where it is processed and distributed. NWS incorporates the data into its weather prediction models that help generate medium-to-long range forecasts. The data is also available to users around the world via direct broadcast.
Suomi NPP data are used to generate dozens of environmental data products, including measurements of clouds, vegetation, ocean color, and land and sea surface temperatures. Suomi NPP products are available via NOAA's Comprehensive Large Array-Data Stewardship (CLASS) website, which currently houses more than 4 petabytes of data from the satellite. For a better understanding of the volume of data, 4 petabytes of data is equal to the amount that could be stored on 253,750 (16GB) smartphones. NOAA and other research scientists also use Suomi NPP data as they study severe weather, atmospheric and oceanographic phenomena and climate.
The image above compares GOES (top) and Suomi NPP’s VIIRS imagery, in its ability to diagnosis fog levels. The bottom image is from the VIIRS Nighttime Microphysics RGB, which confirmed surface observations showing fog confined to the river valleys in and around the Huntsville CWFA, especially in the northeast Alabama valleys and the Elk River around the Tennessee-Alabama border that was unable to be detected in the GOES image. Credit: SPoRT
Recent Milestones and Achievements
The satellite has reached several major milestones and aided in severe weather prediction since launch.
Examples of recent achievements include: