Credit: NASA – Climate Satellite

Weather satellites or meteorological satellites are used to monitor the weather and climate of the Earth and provide us data for cyclone, hurricane and typhoon tracking, intensity and landfall predictions, forecasting of extreme weather events, fires, effects of pollution, sand and dust storms, snow cover, ice mapping, boundaries of ocean currents, energy flows, monitoring the volcanic ash cloud and activities from volcanoes and more.

The data obtained from remote sensing or earth observation satellites is used for monitoring disaster events and assessing the damages afterwards.

There are two main types of meteorological satellites according to their orbital characteristics:

  • Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) hovering over the same spot on the equator and
  • Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) covering the entire Earth asynchronously
Credit: Kari – Cheollian 2A, Geo Orbit Korean Weather Satellite, launched Dec 2018

The first weather satellite to be considered a success was TIROS-1 launched by NASA in 1960, following attempts such as TIROS and Vanguard in 1958 and 1959.

Today there are many GEO orbiting weather satellites, some of which are mentioned next. GOES are US weather satellites that help humans create weather forecasts. They remain stationary over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Elektro-L Russia’s new-generation weather satellite operates over the Indian Ocean. MTSAT and Himawari Japanese satellites are located over the mid Pacific. The Europeans Meteosat satellites operate over the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. China operates the Fengyun geostationary satellites and India’s INSAT carry instruments for meteorological purposes.

Visit the link for a list of weather satellites here.

There are also many Polar orbiting weather satellites, some of which are mentioned next. The US has the NOAA series, Europe has the Metop satellite, Russia has the Meteor and RESURS series, China has FY series.

The DMSP (The United States Department of Defense’s Meteorological Satellite), operating since the 1960’s. Its primary function is to collect cloud, atmospheric, space weather, and Earth surface data.

The main weather sensor on DMSP provides continuous visual and infrared imagery of cloud cover over an area 1,600 nautical miles wide. Complete global coverage of weather features is accomplished every 14 hours providing essential data over data-sparse and data-denied areas. Additional satellite sensors measure atmospheric vertical profiles of moisture and temperature. Military weather forecasters can detect developing patterns of weather and track existing weather phenomena over remote areas, including the presence of severe thunderstorms, hurricanes and typhoons.

Other DMSP sensors measure space weather parameters such as charged particles, electromagnetic fields and ionospheric characteristics to assess the impact of the natural environment on ballistic-missile early warning radar systems, long-range communications and satellite communications. Additionally, data is used to monitor global auroral activity and to predict the effects of the space environment on satellite operations. (Source: Air Force Space Command)

Credit: Air Force Space Command – An artist’s rendition of a DMSP satellite orbiting Earth

There are two main types of meteorological observation through satellites:

  • Visible and Near Infrared: for recording cloud cover during the day, tropical storms, lakes, forests, mountains, snow ice, fires, and pollution such as smoke, smog, dust and haze. In addition to wind by cloud patterns, alignments and movement from successive photos.
  • Thermal or Infrared: for recording water vapor and determining cloud heights and types, calculate land and surface water temperatures, and to locate ocean surface features. Infrared pictures for example, are used to map currents such as the Gulf Stream which are valuable to the shipping industry. They are also used by fishermen and farmers to know land and water temperatures to protect their crops against frost or increase their catch from the sea.

Follow the link here to ESA eoPortal for a detailed list of satellite missions by alphabet with a detailed description