Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich to Stand Vigilant of Rising Sea Dangers

The word sentinel stems from the Old Italian words sentina, meaning "vigilance," and sentire, "to hear or perceive." As the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite soars to orbit in late November 2020, it will soon be easy to see just how apt “sentinel” describes it. The spacecraft, which is about the size of a small pickup truck, carries the latest advanced instruments to collect the most accurate global data yet on sea level and its changes over time.

NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program uses Earth-observing satellites to help scientists and decision-makers improve prediction of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from disasters, including floods, hurricanes and tsunamis. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich’s mission will augment the agency’s flood preparedness and response capabilities which include satellite observations, data systems, and modeling capabilities.

Sea rise is a crucial indicator of how Earth's climate is changing. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich and the follow-on mission of its twin, Sentinel-6B, will add more than a decade of observation data to a nearly 30-year observation dataset that helps researchers understand our home planet.

Street flooding in Broad Channel, Queens. (Credit: New York City Department of City Planning)

Street flooding in Broad Channel, Queens. Credits: New York City Department of City Planning

More than 200 million people live near coastlines and low-lying areas around the world. While architects and planners in coastal regions can design and build cities to protect against flooding, sea level rise has caused that buffer to shrink. Even 'blue-sky" flooding – where water seeps into septic systems and onto parking lots and roads on sunny days – is becoming more common. That can delay first responders when speed matters most. Rising seas also worsen the impact of coastal flooding from storms, damage coastal habitat, and disrupt economies worldwide.