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Harmony Mission is a Go

European Space Agency announces 10th Earth Explorer Mission

March 16, 2023 — 

In the fall of 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Harmony, its 10th Earth Explorer mission, had been approved to go forward.  A critical part of ESA’s FutureEO programme, Earth Explorers are trailblazing research missions designed to demonstrate how observational techniques can uncover new scientific findings about our planet. Their explicit intent is to not only lead advancement in science and technology, but also provide answers to a myriad of questions pertaining to climate change and the societal issues most affecting the world today, such as resource scarcity, energy and public health.

Harmony’s mission will feature two identical satellites which will fly in tandem alongside a Sentinel-1 satellite with the goal of providing a better understanding of three areas of Earth’s interconnecting systems: The ocean-atmosphere interface, land ice/sea ice, and tectonic strain/volcanic processes.

“[Harmony] will take advantage of existing satellite (a Sentinel SAR mission) and fly in formation with that satellite to improve our spatial and temporal resolution of deformation on the earth as well as resolve coupled ocean/atmospheric processes with a multi angle thermal infrared sensor,” says Julienne Stroeve, Climatologist and Professor at the Centre for Earth Observation Science at UM, who was a member of the mission advisory group that defended the mission in July of 2022.

“This will further help to understand mass changes of the large ice sheets, permafrost thaw, earthquakes, cloud formation processes and sea ice deformation.”

Stroeve says the upcoming mission will allow climate scientists to better characterize ocean-ice-atmosphere interactions at the finest spatial scales never before possible, combining measurements of wind stress, surface currents and cloud motion vectors to allow for improved understanding of the interaction of surface winds and cloud structures.

The satellites will make it possible to observe ice deformation (or changes to ice floes as they are driven against each other) happening in real time and may help improve scientists’ understanding of how to accurately model sea ice deformation in climate models, and hopefully provide better forecasting of ice breakup events for ice that is attached to the coastline near coastal regions essential for Arctic communities.

Utilizing its unique 3-D interferometric capabilities, Harmony will supply high-precision measurements of glacier mass balance and small changes in ice motion, which will help improve our understanding of subglacial processes. Its capacities allow for many solid earth applications as well, such as its ability to measure 3-D tectonic motion, elevation and volume changes at volcanoes globally. Harmony will also be capable of calculating strain rates from earthquakes, which measure the speed at which the outer solid part of the earth is being deformed

“As new big initiatives such as Digital Twin Earths (a supercomputer model) that will run climate model simulations at unprecedented high spatial and temporal resolution, we need to have observations to evaluate the models, as well as help to constrain the models through data assimilation,” says Stroeve.

“Harmony will provide such critical data. It will also for the first time be able to map both the change in elevation and movement of the large ice sheets which play a crucial role in sea level rise from melting of Greenland and Antarctica.”

Now that it has finally received approval by the ESA Programme Board on Earth Observation, the mission can progress from the design stage to the building and implementation phase.

Harmony is scheduled to launch in 2028.


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