New European satellite will measure global wind speeds

The European Space Agency is preparing to launch the first satellite that will directly measure wind speeds around the world in what scientists hope will improve weather forecasts. Aeolus was originally scheduled to launch Monday (Aug. 21), but Arianespace postponed the launch by 24 hours due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Straume said that computer models for predicting future weather rely heavily on four pieces of information about the atmosphere: temperature, pressure, humidity and winds.

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Data on air movements are now collected from the ground or, indirectly, by observing waves and clouds from planes or space.

Aeolus will be equipped with an instrument dubbed Aladin, short for Atmospheric Laser Doppler Instrument, that will use a powerful laser, a large telescope and a very sensitive receiver to probe the atmosphere. By comparing the wavelength of the light when it goes out to the wavelength when it returns, scientists can calculate which way the air is moving.

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Importantly, Aeolus will close a gap scientists have when it comes to measuring winds at altitudes between 10-30 kilometres (six and 18 miles).

The Aeolus mission will provide scientists with data on winds in remote areas, such as over oceans, that they have not been able to get from weather balloons, ground stations and airplanes but which are crucial to predicting changes in weather.

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The satellite will orbit Earth every 90 minutes, beaming data to a ground station on Norway's Arctic island of Svalbard from where they will be sent to the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, England.

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