Sentinel-3A’s first infrared picture is a masterpiece © ESA

Sentinel-3A’s first infrared picture is a masterpiece

It looks like modern art but until ESA’s climate satellite is regarded akin to Picasso or Pollock, we’ll just have to enjoy it for the scientific beauty.

This stunning picture of where the Namibian coast meets the Atlantic Ocean is the first taken by the thermal-infrared camera of ESA’s recently launched Sentinel-3A satellite.

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Pretty, but isn’t the Earth green?

That’s right (although the Namibian coastline is mostly desert), but the colours actually represent the Earth’s surface temperature, red being the hottest parts and dark blue the coldest. If you know how to read these colours and combine them with geographical knowledge you can see in different shades of yellow, orange and red dunes in the Namibian desert.

The light and dark blue chaos in the lower left reveals how cold water wells up near the coast and whirls the sea around.

Again, pretty, but do they have any scientific uses?

They definitely have! Meteorologists want to take pictures of the entire globe’s surface. Once those are corrected for some distorting effects of the atmosphere, they will help weather forecasting, analysing temperature changes in the seas or to estimate the effects of slash-and-burn farming and forest fires.

“It is very exciting to see all the small-scale thermal features clearly captured in the Benguela region [the water whirl in the picture],” says Hilary Wilson, Sentinel-3 project manager. “This really demonstrates the potential of the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer.”

“With dual-view measurement capability, it will be used to derive accurate surface temperature, a key parameter at the ocean–atmosphere boundary. Therefore, it is important for both operational oceanography and meteorology, and ultimately for long-term climate monitoring.”

And a bonus for any budding climate detectives out there – the data will be available to both professionals and the public.

For the rest of us, let’s just sit back and enjoy the arty side of science.


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